From Hard Conversations to Opportunity Talks

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled, “What’s In a Name?”, where I suggested that schools might want to think about reimagining traditional course and subject names, and that post got me thinking really deeply about the how and why behind the naming and labeling of lots of things all across organizations. For example, the other day I had a super supportive friend and colleague of mine ask me how I was doing because he knew that I had just come out of a school day loaded full of what he called, “hard conversations”. 

After I said thank you and started to head for home it struck me that on its face the label that we use to identify this kind of courageous human interaction really does have a negative connotation, and after thinking critically about it over the past week or so I’d like to advocate for a change from calling these interactions “hard conversations”, to a more positive and compassionate labeling where we call these conversations, “opportunity talks”. 

In my opinion, a simple name change like this would re-frame a person’s mindset, approach and inevitable visualization of what’s to come from one of nervousness, defensiveness, and fear (on both sides of the table) to one of openness, understanding, and compassion. In my experience, just about every hard conversation that I have ever had with anyone, and I’ve had many, has deep down at the core been about recognizing an opportunity. An opportunity that we have for growth, or clarity, or repair, which ultimately is a very positive and beautiful chance for a particular person to do better, and to be better…and what could be a greater opportunity than that?

It took me a long time to change my approach and mindset regarding these difficult discussions, and if I’m being honest, I used to shy away from them until they became absolutely necessary. I was never one for conflict growing up, and like most people, addressing difficult issues was something that I didn’t look forward to for many, many years because well, they are hard! Over the years however, I have started to embrace these opportunity talks as I am now acutely aware of the fact that good leadership and good schools are connected tightly to what people in the organization are willing to address. Now I actually find myself much more comfortable with these types of conversations because I know that an organizational culture depends on them, and I have learned throughout the years that they are an integral part of building solid and trusting relationships…and as we know, relationships are the foundation of all human organizations, especially school environments.  

I’m not saying that these conversations aren’t difficult, they certainly are, and they require practice, practice, practice and a developed skill set to manage them well, that’s for sure. So to begin that work as schools let’s start with a simple change of name so both parties enter into the conversation with a focus on the opportunity that lies ahead, and a focus on what ultimately matters, which is doing and being better for our kids and for our community. 

Anyway, If nothing else, this name change would reframe our mindsets around these interactions, and shift how a day full of “hard conversations” doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad day at all like my friend assumed and suggested, in fact, it can actually turn out to be a very good day or even a great day. You see, a day full of “opportunity talks” is a day full of growth, relationship building, deeper understanding, stronger connections, and a day full of strengthening our culture as a school…that’s a great day indeed! Have a fantastic week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…
At work, at home, and across the backyard fence, difficult conversations are attempted or avoided everyday – Douglas Stone

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2 thoughts on “From Hard Conversations to Opportunity Talks”

  1. Thanks Dan for this insightful posting. Just like the quote that was being used in this posting Perhaps , Family ( Home)! and Friends are a great time for opportunity talks too. With Graditude, JAC

  2. Excellent read. It’s so important that conversations are reframed as developmental and positive rather than ‘difficult’.

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