* Crucial Conversations #7: restart

checkered_flagWhew!  The rubber meets the road in Chapter 8: Explore Other’s Paths.  This chapter is a map of how to open/ restart dialog with someone when they have resorted to “silence or violence.”   Conversations shut down when someone does not feel safe.  That leads to default methods of interacting under stress, not necessarily effective ones.  The authors continue to focus on humility, sincerity, and positive expectations.  And patience.

It is much easier for me to apply this in teaching students than in my personal or professional life.  I think that’s because I have a large comfort zone with special needs kids, so I am not dismayed when they strike out or withdraw.  If my husband ever did that, I would react quite differently!  (He’s pretty amazing and could have written crucial conversations.)

Kids who have been identified as autistic or having emotional disorders can benefit greatly from conversations with teachers who do not take offense, who are willing to explore the students’ perspectives, and can help them safely review what they actually heard or saw.  Primarily, these students need to know it’s safe to share their feelings, no matter how upset they are.  I remember a kid talking about bombing the school.  I could tell that he wanted to scare me, but I encouraged him to talk and draw what he was feeling.  After creating a number of violent pictures, he asked me what it would take to get expelled from school.  I asked him why he wanted to get expelled and the whole story poured out.  He had been violent at home, terrified a younger sibling, and ended up living with an aunt.  His goal was to get back to his mom.  If he acted crazy in this new school, he hoped to be sent back.  Eventually he was reunited with his mom, although he obviously still had a lot of anger and jealousy issues to be resolved.

Another student told me about his plan to “get even” with two classmates.  At first, he was embarrassed to talk openly about his violent feelings.  When I simply listened (ignoring my regular schedule and growling tummy), he ended up describing a troubling “triangle” in which he felt left out.  His perspective was that of a victim, denied HIS special twosome by a new kid in the class.  It took many conversations to eventually move him from that role to exploring new relationships.  It was a bumpy path.  I reminded myself (and him) that it takes time to work out relationships.  I could not force any solution; instead, he had to see that there were alternatives to the bleak picture he had painted.  Again, his relational difficulties persisted, but he did not resort to violence because he could safely talk about his problem.

In contrast to my behavior with students, I recall fleeing a room just so I could hold my tongue before I did irreparable damage to a relationship.  Well, duh.

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