A guest blog by Karen Dempster, Co-Founder of Fit2Communicate.
Fit2Communicate comprises Justin Robbins and Karen Dempster who are communication professionals, Fellows of the Institute of Internal Communication, and parents of school aged children. They founded Fit2Communicate in 2014 to raise the standard of communication in all schools by harnessing the power of communication between the school, students, parents and local communities. Their unique approach to school communication is described in their first book for school leaders called ‘How to Build Communication Success in Your School’, which was published in March 2017.
Reduce the stress through good communication
Negative stress is highly destructive. It impacts our health and lives – both at work and at home. But there are ways to reduce this stress through building good communication skills and practices that help us build strong and trusted relationships. And schools that take communication seriously will create a team that feels supported and engaged and an experience that teachers never want to leave.
When communication goes wrong
Many of us think that we can communicate simply because we were born able to speak and listen, but effective communication takes a little more commitment if you are to become a masterful communicator.
Poor communication can result in stressful misunderstandings, wrong assumptions and costly mistakes. It can create resentment and problems in relationships. So, it’s worth the investment in time to ensure you and your school are successful and, more importantly, happy. In fact, the Carnegie School of Technology state that 85% of our success is related to our ability to communicate.
How to reduce stress through good communication
- Understand your communication preferences. Great communication starts with self-awareness followed by awareness of others. We use simple surveys to help people to understand the characteristics that make up who they are and how they communicate. This is part of our ‘communication compass’ approach. Using a personality profile tool, such as DISC, you’ll better understand yourself and how you come across to others (please note – you may be surprised!). You will also better understand why others behave the way they do – taking some of the frustration and ‘heat’ out of those moments when you may not agree. This will help hugely in teamwork situations, when you can understand the collective communication strengths of your team and how best to work together, using a common language removing the potential for personal conflict.
- Start by listening and we’re not talking about listening just with your ears. Open your mind and avoid pre-judging and formulating an answer as someone is speaking. Really listen. Be present. Listen to the words they are saying but also look at them and what is not being said. Be patient and avoid jumping in. Allow for the longer pauses and to digest the information. Try and walk in their shoes wherever possible.
- Avoid letting issues fester. If you aren’t happy with how someone has acted, use your knowledge of their communication preference to approach them for an honest conversation outlining the issue factually and suggesting a way forward. Of course, you need to be respectful of them and their feelings. Speak the truth with kindness and respect. Recognise the good aspects of the situation as well as the negative for a balanced perspective.
- Avoid the overload. We’re hit from all sides in our professional and personal lives. Whether it is email, text, WhatsApp or other social media channels, let alone the phone or personal interactions. It can be exhausting and overwhelming. Managing this information waterfall is down to us all setting our own parameters. Don’t respond to work messages out of work hours, particularly if you are a school leader. Set up simple auto responses on work emails to set expectations about the time in which you will respond to avoid you feeling it is necessary to respond in the moment. Set up email rules so certain messages go into certain folders so you can respond to them more easily.
- Turn down the volume! Technology is all around us and it can be incredibly stressful being interrupted by phones, computers and more. Set aside some time each day without any distractions. Allow an hour before bedtime to wind down and avoid taking any electronic devices into your bedroom. Leave them in another room and switched off.
- Show you are grateful. We are all responsible for helping one another to reduce stress. Find genuine reasons to acknowledge another person’s strengths and skills. It can make a huge difference to someone’s day.
- Your language shapes how you feel. Be aware of the words you choose when you speak to others as negatively loaded words will impact you and others.
- When things get too much then find someone to talk to who you can trust. Don’t let negative thoughts build up inside of you. Let them out with someone who can help. You may have a trusted person who you can rely on but, if you need someone who is independent, you can contact the Education Support Partnership, a charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the education workforce.
- And if you are a school leader, discuss the teacher experience, as a whole, with your senior leadership team. We have a simple visual and self-awareness questionnaire to help you to understand where you are at each stage and where you should focus to improve. This is what will make a difference to teacher recruitment, retention and wellbeing. And if you are not a school leader, share this with someone who is.
For more ideas to take the pressure off through good school communication, contact www.fit2communicate.com. We’d love to help.
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