"I keep leaving messages but she never returned my phone call."
"My principal just told me what I could have done differently to make the lesson better."
"I didn't understand the directions for the assignment, but my teacher just said I should have paid more attention when she was saying them."
Do any of these sound familiar? Whether we are students, teachers, administrators or dog rescue fosters (wait....how did that get in the mix? Sorry, it's so part of my life, as well as education), the main issues I seem to continue to hear from people that frustrate the stew out of them is miscommunication or the lack of communication.
One of the things I do that is proof positive that I have a bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the need to return an email, text or phone call within a few hours at the most. I know, I know, some people say, "But what if I don't have any answers for them?" My response is forever and always going to be: Then call them back and tell them that. When I was a principal, nothing frustrated a parent more than to not get a phone call about something that was deemed pretty pertinent to their child's emotional, mental or educational well-being. My theory has always been: I may not enjoy the potential conflict but rest assured, it is not going to get any better by waiting to deal with it.
One of my first years I was a principal, I introduced the concept of tackling the "heavy lifting" as soon as possible by showing the EAT THE FROG video. I'm not trying to get in trouble with PETA or anyone else who gets grossed out by the analogy, but the truth is: the sooner you deal with a conflict, the sooner it goes away and the less frustrating it usually becomes for both parties.
However, there is a caveat to that wisdom that I have learned the hard way. My dear doctoral colleague, Dr. Michelle Vaughn, used to warn me when I was frustrated with a situation and wanted to reach out and email someone right away to defend myself or make sure nobody was mad at me (approval seeking at its finest) to WAIT. Just wait, she would say, before pressing that "Send" button, because once you have sent, it is all but impossible to unsend. I love Michelle for so many reasons, but that is in the top ten, for sure.
So, what to do:
1. Return phone calls, even if we don't have all the answers and express that (i.e. "I wanted to get back to you right away to let you know I am checking out the details and I will call you back as soon as I have some solid answers for you.")
2. When faced with a nasty email, go ahead and gripe about it ("How dare she say I didn't.....?" "Don't they know what all I have done to.....?") . I sometimes even write it down what I want to say. But then I re-word it in a way that might actually be heard by the other person. Because, as I often say, there is no point in being Mr. Righty-Rightster if nobody is listening to you because you offended them so much from the get-go.
3. Remember that in all matters relationship, school, work, marriage, and friendship, the ultimate goal is to come out on the other side with a positive result. Being right simply cannot be the ultimate goal, unless you don't mind sacrificing that particular relationship (and in school and work related scenarios, you can't, because your job may depend upon your improved communication skills). Instead, think it through----what is a win-win for everyone? I believe Stephen Covey had so many great, common sense thoughts when he penned "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People". In fact, if you haven't picked it up in awhile, maybe take a listen. I use those habits in my workshops, in my communications with customer service folks, and in my relationships with loved ones... all the time.
Just for today, perhaps we can examine where the flaws in our communication lie (as we are certainly not cookie - cut the same way, thank goodness.) Once we address the issue, we can begin working towards solutions.
I'm happy to help out in any way I can if you want or need it in your organization.