As educators, we are expected to communicate authentically and clearly with students in our classrooms, colleagues in our professional learning communities, and administrators in various meetings, trainings, etc. We are expected to listen, pay attention, show empathy, ask questions, and move the conversation forward. Sometimes, however, in the midst of a conversation, we don’t always communicate in the best way for various reasons, and one or both parties leave the conversation not feeling their best. As reflective educators and people in general, we all want to do better by communicating clearly. I know I do, which led me straight into the literature.

I recently reread Jim Knight’s Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected and was reminded of the power of better conversations in our classrooms, our professional communities, and our homes. Taking steps to improve how we converse and interact with others is critical because much of our success and happiness rests on how well we communicate with others. When teachers communicate clear expectations, ask open-ended questions, and encourage dialogue, the learning of students increases tremendously. In our professional communities, better conversations can lead to more reflective and productive conversations regarding student learning and teacher practice. 

If you are anything like me, you want to have better conversations, yet you might not know how. Luckily for us, Jim Knight articulates ten habits to help us have better conversations. 

Ten Habits

1.) Demonstrate Empathy – Share another person’s emotions and recognize that other people have different experiences than we do.

2.) Listen with Empathy – Make sure your partner is the speaker, let your partner finish their thoughts before you jump in, and ensure your comments/questions open up the conversation instead of shutting it down.

3.) Foster Dialogue – Dialogue creates space for people to learn and think together. Foster dialogue through asking questions and listening to your partner’s response.

4.) Ask Better Questions – When asking questions, remain curious, utilize open-ended questions, and remain non-judgmental.

5.) Make Emotional Connections – Respond positively to others’ bids for connection. According to the Gottman Institute, a bid is an attempt from one person to another for a positive connection.

6.) Be a Witness to the Good – Share positive information with others in a direct and specific way.

7.) Find Common Ground – Find ways to connect with others through similarities.

8.) Control Toxic Emotions – Identify the root cause of our triggers, enter into each conversation as a learner, avoid making assumptions, and utilize wait time.

9.) Redirect Toxic Conversations – Create norms, divert the conversation, clarify incorrect statements, or remain silent.

10.) Build Trust – Ensure staff feel safe through connection, transparency, competence, and stewardship.

As I read through these habits, I reflect on my own strengths and opportunities for growth. One of my opportunities for growth is controlling toxic emotions. I struggle to manage my emotions sometimes during challenging conversations, and I often shut-down. I’m actively working on identifying my triggers and digging deep into the root cause of them. 

One of my strengths is asking better questions – I am naturally curious and love to learn! Jim Knight encourages people to enter every conversation as a learner, and I’ve worked on embodying that mindset over the last year. For me, it’s really made a positive difference in the quality of the conversations I’ve had. 

As you read through the habits and reflect, which habit is a strength of yours, and which habit is an opportunity for growth? If you want a manageable place to start to help you have better conversations, I suggest trying my all-time favorite habit: “Be a Witness to the Good.” When people feel seen, heard, and valued, self-efficacy, productivity, engagement, and motivation increase. There are so many positive outcomes of witnessing the good, and most of the time, this habit is free and takes minimal time! You can share positive information with others through a text, a call, a tweet, an email, a sticky-note, a thank you note, a handwritten note, etc. The options are endless! I personally love to use these encouragement cards from Amazon to witness to the good and share gratitude with others. You can “be a witness to the good” in any way you want. Just remember to be specific and genuine. 

How can you start to have better conversations? Challenge yourself this week to focus on your favorite or weakest habit in order to have a better conversation with your students and colleagues!

1Brittle, Z. (2018, October 24). Turn towards instead of away. The Gottman Institute.

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