Recently I attended a resourceful workshop hosted by the New Zealand School Trustees Association and presented by Meredith Marshall from Captivate on successful communications and media management. Principals and Board Chairs (like me) who attended were given really useful tools to deal with bubbling issues in our school communities including “ always front up” (briefly, accurately and in writing) and “if in doubt, leave it out” (three to five sentences in an unemotive response is a good rule of thumb).
The message which resonated the most with me at a personal and professional level was that being honest, respectful and transparent in all your communications will usually prevent bubbling issues from boiling over.
So, what to do when temperatures reach boiling point? Apparently putting a wooden spoon on top of the pot when boiling something and the water will stop it from boiling over?! Outside the kitchen, when issues are simmering agree to discuss the topic within set rules. For example, act in good faith and trust that the discussion will be kept confidential between those directly involved.
When in discussions, create a shared vision to reflect and refocus on when working the issue through. For example, in the context of a school environment, the shared vision will be to create the best learning environment for the students of your school.
Sometimes the old cliché of “too many cooks spoil the broth” applies – make sure you keep only key people and any agencies involved in the details of the discussion and agree with them on a strategy of how and when to communicate the issue to the wider community.
But if nothing changes or tensions continue to rise, please don’t hesitate to seek advice. Independent neutral advisors or facilitators have the advantage of being objective and can diffuse the pressure so that you and others don’t get burned (like the late lunch I am ignoring while I write this)!