By Veronica Acuna

Strategies to Strengthen Your Voice

Saying the hard thing doesn’t have to be so hard when you develop a strategy.

Conflict with parents, students or colleagues is inevitable. We’ve all had encounters in our professional lives that we tried to avoid or found uncomfortable . Re ve a l i n g insecurities. Providing negative feedback. Challenging points of views. Confronting hurtful behavior. Apologizing. No matter how many times you’ve had them, difficult conversations are always challenging. Still, difficult conversations are worth having because they are essential for growth.

You can prepare yourself by learning strategies to strengthen your voice. The following are tips to remember when either confronted unexpectedly with a difficult conversation or preparing to initiate one:

Your voice is important, you deserve to be heard

If it is weighing on your heart and consuming your mental energy, it probably needs to be discussed. Remember, what you have to say is valuable, and you are worth being heard. Practicing and articulating what you really want to say will help to make your message clear.

Stop, take a breath and think about what you would like to say before saying it.

If confronted with something unexpectedly, practice mindfulness and be aware of your physical and emotional response to the situation. Say out loud “I need a minute,” or “I see we are both upset; I need to step back for a minute.” You do not need to apologize for how you are feeling.

Recognize what you need and state it —“I’m uncomfortable with the tone of this conversation, so I’ll need some time to process.” While sometimes situations are urgent and may need to be addressed quickly, it is always okay to take a momentary step back, if needed.

Practice what you’re going to say, using language with which you’re most familiar

Having a trusted colleague, partner, or family member with whom you can role play what you want to say is extremely valuable. Having somebody to just bounce ideas around with can help you clarify exactly how you are feeling and how to express it. Finding a set of words and phrases with which you feel comfortable will make it feel more natural to articulate your point.

Asking for clarification is also important to help to ensure that there is little to no miscommunication. Try, “Let me see if I understand…”or “I don’t understand what you meant when you said….” When you choose your words, remember what we teach our students: T.H.I.N.K.—is it true? Helpful? Improves upon the silence? Necessary? Kind?

Focus on ‘Student First’

When you can open up a conversation with honest reflection on whether or not your actions, feelings, words, intentions are student-centered it will help ground the conversation. Often teachers avoid talking to other teachers in fear of “stepping on toes.” This mindset often creates avoidance and passive aggressiveness. The teachers will avoid having a difficult conversation with a colleague in fear of the confrontation. In the end, if the problem goes unaddressed, students will continue to be negatively affected with no end in sight.

‘Satya’— Non-lying, Commitment to Truth

“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth—not going all the way, and not starting,” Buddha once said. Avoiding the whole truth is misleading. Often times we hold back information in attempts to control the emotional response of the listener. We want to avoid fear, anger, and displeasure. Withholding truth can worsen the situation, especially if the listener misinterprets what is being said. Ash Beckham, during a recent TEDx talk tells us, “Be authentic. Be direct. Be unapologetic.

Remember that dealing with difficult conversations can make for awkward situations but, if done right, they can lead to strengthened relationships. The rewards are worth the effort.