The Impact of Perspective: How Our Mindset Impacts Our Outcomes.

THE WEIGHT OF CONVERSATIONS

I’m not sure how many conversations a principal has during a ‘typical’ day, if there is such a thing as a ‘typical’ day, but what I do know is that it is a lot! As I reflect on my day at work yesterday, and think about the interactions I had that were just related to school, it is amazing. It starts when I enter the office and am always greeted by Corinne, our school administrative assistant. Yesterday my first at work conversation was with her, then my vice-principal, Michelle, and then from there the opportunities to connect just kept coming. Teachers, education assistants (EAs), students, parents, community coaches, and bus drivers all with things to talk about or questions to ask. Then there are the phone calls and/or online meetings; colleagues, supervisors, parents, and community members. We also can’t forget our virtual conversations we have during the day as well, e-mails, text messages and direct messages via social media also contribute to flow of incoming information we deal with on an ongoing basis.

I had a wonderful opportunity to share in a learning conversation last week with some fellow administrators as we discussed the impact of these interactions on our own mental health and well-being. What I have found is that the interactions we have with people will always have an impact on us, from the very slight to the very profound. These accumulate, and like the rings of a tree, add up over time. When I think of the chats I have with people in the classrooms, hallways, gymnasium, on the playground or off campus, I can put them in various categories. From simple greetings, to small talk, to questions and answers, to debates, to problem solving, to disciplinary, there are many different categories they fall into. Regardless of the type, they form a ring, and over time that begins to force us to bear that weight.

Just as the mightiest tree can be toppled due to excessive weight, we need to be mindful of how much we can carry as leaders. What I have discovered, not perfected, but discovered, is that it can so often be our own mindset that determines the size of the impact a conversation will lay down upon us. I feel this can be best articulated through an example of two conversations with the same individual on two very different days.

Conversation one:

I was not anticipating this meeting, it was completely out of the blue, but I knew, in an instant, that it was a conversation that required my full, undivided attention. Susan (pseudonym) approached me in the hall, her body language already starting the conversation before the first words left her mouth. She was angry and frustrated and wanted action, and wanted it now. There was an incident of bullying that had happened to someone she cared very deeply about and felt that incidents similar to this in the past had not been dealt with in a sufficient manner, hence the demand for action. Her words and tone were accusatory and the arrows were being slung directly at me.

I stood with her and listened, all the while feeling my own anger beginning to bubble up inside me, until I stopped her and began firing back. I listed examples of actions I had taken. I spoke of things Susan’s friend could and should have done in this instance. I pushed back and in the end Susan left the school, frustrated, unsatisfied, and carrying a sense that I did not care. I left that conversation filled with adrenaline fueled anger, headed straight to my office, and sat in silence to reflect on what had just taken place.

Conversation two:

I was not anticipating this meeting, it was completely out of the blue, but I knew, in an instant, that it was a conversation that required my full, undivided attention. Susan (pseudonym) walked directly through the open door to my office and sat in the comfy, red club chair that was right beside my desk. She didn’t say a word, she couldn’t. She looked around my office trying to find the right words, but it was clear she was stuck. “What’s up?” I asked. She shook her head as little pools of tears began to form along the base of her eyes. “Susan. What’s going on?” I asked quietly. She took a deep breath and began sharing her story, a story that started years earlier.

We sat together for a long time, and through tears, anger, laughter, and deep thought, we arrived at a place where she felt empowered to deal with a situation that would certainly happen again in her life. She left my office walking much taller and confident than when she had came in 45 minutes earlier. I left that conversation and remained seated in my office to reflect on what had just taken place.

I wonder if you could spot the difference in those two conversations. In both cases, Susan, filled with emotion and looking for answers, approached me in a way that took me off guard. In both cases it was Susan’s agenda that spawned the interaction. In both cases it was Susan’s actions that created the moment. The difference? Me.

In the first conversation I felt attacked and I took a defensive stance. In the second conversation I felt needed and I adopted an open mindset. I think a lot about these two conversations, and wonder how much more productive conversation one would have been had I viewed the verbal attack from Susan in a different way. I perceived her words as “you messed up!” or “you need to fix this!” or “you do not care!” What if I perceived them as “I need help because I’m hurt!” or “someone I love needs me and I need you to help!” or “I can’t do this alone!”? How different would the impact of conversation one have been?

It’s our choice. We get to determine our mindset during these interactions. And while it is our choice, it certainly does not mean it’s easy. In fact, in those most heated of moments, when we are feeling attacked, that’s when we need to try and be at our best. There are many books, written by people much smarter than I, who talk about strategies to accomplish this. It’s important that we think about this, that we work on this, and that we practice this. Not only will this impact the culture of your school, it will impact the size and weight of the rings we carry.

What do you think? How does your mindset play a role in the way an interaction impacts you?

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen