Last week I was working with a fantastic team of teachers and for the large part, everything was going really well, but some frustrations were starting to simmer below the surface.
The frustrations were building because of the different ways staff interacted and communicated with each other around the school. Especially at this time of the year. Some staff were taking an informal approach and others felt the school environment was for a more formal approach. Some would say that their colleagues were too serious and structured, while others would be too relaxed, fun-loving and free-flowing.
This got me thinking…..
Imagine you are at a BBQ with your mates. You are relaxed and comfortable around each other. How you communicate has almost created a new language over time; the in-jest slurs and phrases that only you and your friends understand. In some ways, over the journey of your friendship, permission has been given to speak in this informal way, to a point where you can read the context and hear the humour, compassion and love in your mate’s voice. This is even the case when the conversation ends with ‘you’re an idiot’.
Now step into a board room or workplace where you meet with new colleagues. The formality is immediate, the polite handshake and small talk that leads to formal conversation.
The two scenarios above are both appropriate ways of communicating in the relevant environment. In schools, it’s often not as straightforward. At times the ‘formal and informal’ line in our communication or interaction can be blurred.
There is a time and place for both. The important thing is to have an awareness of when it’s the right time to use the correct approach and know when to switch between the two. It sounds simple and for the large part, it is. Unfortunately, frustration can build when we select the wrong mode or when our colleagues have a different opinion on what mode we should be in.
Selecting your mode of communication hinges on the quality and strength of your relationship with the person or our team. The stronger the relationship and the more trust we have built, the more choices we have to interact either informally or formally. When there is no existing relationship or the relationship has been damaged, our options are narrowed towards the formal end.
The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on the culture of communication at your school. Are your colleagues mindful of their conduct and the impact it has on those around them? Is there enough trust that if someone gets it wrong, you can talk about it before it festers? Maybe the most critical reflection is what you are role-modelling to your students. Are you teaching your kids to understand the appropriate time to communicate, either formally or informally?