A Thousand Cuts – Healed, One Conversation at a Time



“Death by a thousand cuts,” I recall my Dad complaining after something had occurred. Then, he’d laugh and things would be OK again. But it wasn’t until much later that I asked, “What does he mean, ‘death by a thousand cuts?'” Although I figured it out, discovering it was a way of torturing people, I found this explanation quite engaging:

A failure that occurs as a result of many smaller problems…This term can also apply to a product or idea that is destroyed by too many minor changes or the failure of a plan as a result of a cumulative chain of events.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly encountered my share of these kinds of failure in implementing technology in K-12 schools (hmm, that’s a blog post on its own). In Choosing Not to Know, George points outs the following relevant to social media:

I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it.  The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.

TOUGH CONVERSATIONS
A question that I seldom asked early on in my career, but now have learned to ask, is, “How does your organization start conversations with others in the organization when they disagree?” In my own experience, conversations “shut down” after a series of incidents, when the people involved fail at finding someone on the “opposing side” that will agree with them. Or, they throw up their hands and give up. “Oh well,” I’ve heard folks say, “I’ve done my part.” Simply, the responsibility for fixing something is not their’s…they lack the authority and/or influence to bring about the desired change.

As a person who is part of multiple teams, I finally realized that it’s MY responsibility to make sure the conversation doesn’t stop when it’s convenient to do so. How do you broach subjects, that if left untreated, will result in problems for the organization? As an administrator in an organization, I cannot let an issue die.

That’s why I like A Great Team, Like a Great Marriage, Fights Well. Some of the take-aways that apply to establishing the conditions for “safe” dialogue seen as so essential in Crucial Conversations:

  1. Give permission to debate freely and respectfully. “a leader should intentionally give the entire team permission to debate freely and respectfully, ensures that hard feelings are left in the room and everyone is aligned and committed when they walk out the door.”
  2. Change the culture.  “The most common dysfunction of a team facing a conflict is avoidance.   Teams cannot solve problems if their cultural reaction is to avoid them.”
  3. Get the team’s thinking. Crowd-sources the best ideas and filters out the weakest.
  4. Set ground rules for conflict. “I expect to hear differing views on this from each present, and, I don’t simply want to hear what you think is right but particularly about what you think is weak or wrong.”

Ron Alvester makes this very important point:

Just as in marriage, when conflict is perceived as a dysfunction, it results in hurt feelings, resentment, anger, division, name calling and ultimately each person feels like they’re spinning their wheels and not going much of anywhere.  When conflict is viewed as a healthy and natural part of the relationship, done in a safe environment and played by the rules, it can produce exceptional results.

As a team leader, I can vouch for the efficacy of these approaches, even when inexpertly implemented (yes, I have experience with that, too!!). Establishing a process for resolving issues–whether it be blocking social media or changing curriculum practices–is essential.

How do you get it done?




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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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