Published: Dec. 11, 2018

nullHaving your student back home over winter break can be both stressful and enjoyable. Even when we have the best intentions and are thrilled to see each other, we can find ourselves in difficult conversations. Preparing for these interactions, whatever they may be, can help make us all feel more productive and positive.

Conflicting emotions

After being at school, it's not uncommon for students to be thinking about new things or to have different views than they have in the past, or even to disagree with your views. It's important to remember when communicating that we can love and care for each other and our whole community even while disagreeing. This internal conflict can be expected and doesn't necessarily have to be resolved.

It's important that we allow for this complexity, communicate our thoughts with respect and be willing to consider what everyone has to say.

Coping in the moment

Sometimes difficult conversations and frustrating interactions catch us off-guard or escalate more than we expect. In these situations, we need to practice coping in the moment to ensure we respond rationally. Give one of these coping strategies a try before responding:

  • Remember to take long breaths while listening to stay present in the moment.
  • Use sensory awareness to stay present with your experience. While you're talking to your student about a sensitive or difficult topic, it may be helpful to remain aware of your senses (what you see, hear, feel).
  • Allow your body to be your guide. While talking with your student you might notice many emotions and sensations. Focus your attention on those that help you feel strong and secure before responding.

De-escalating and reframing  

When the conversation or situation gets heated, it’s difficult to make any progress. In these situations, de-escalating and returning to the facts are important. Reiterate that having these conversations with your student is important, that you do value and respect them and acknowledge that you recognize they value you as well. Then, refocus on what feels important for you to say.

Reframe the conversation as a healthy dialogue. If the volume ticks up, use your own voice to bring it back down. If you find yourself getting frustrated, bring in a coping strategy before speaking again. If need be, ask to take a break and return to the conversation after everyone has time to cool off—maybe by taking a walk, having a snack or getting a good night’s sleep. Consider these moments an opportunity to model what a respectful conversation can look like and how to move forward in difficult moments.

The LEAP method

When entering or re-entering the conversation, the LEAP method can be key to maintaining a healthy dialogue. LEAP stands for Listen, Empathize, Agree and Partner. Listen actively to what your student is saying, empathize by showing you understand their point of view, agree on non-judgmental common ground and become partners by summarizing the discussion and identifying ways to move forward together.

It can be good to model this method as well—explain to your student what you’re doing and ask that they do the same with you. Practice moving through the tense moments together.

Managing expectations

While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Conversations don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. There is still value in finding our voices and saying what we need to say, and hearing out what our students need to say.

Additionally, we have to remember that others can’t always meet our expectations. Before going into a potentially stressful situation, it’s important to check-in with ourselves about what we’re expecting and what might realistically happen. This way, we can prepare emotionally and care for ourselves as well as our students.

Planning a difficult conversation

Sometimes we need to start the difficult conversation ourselves. Choosing a quiet area to talk, finding a time that works for all parties and explaining why you want to have this conversation and what you hope will come of it can all make for a better interaction.

Establishing this respect and utilizing the LEAP method are the foundations for keeping the other person engaged, listening and feeling heard. When it then comes time to conclude the conversation, agreeing to talk more at another time and thanking each other for listening can help to preserve the relationship and lay the groundwork for future interactions.