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Wednesday
May222013

Can one be kind and still create change?

General Rule #2: It’s always, always, always better to be a nice person than an ass. You will make mistakes at home and on the job. So keep this in mind: People will forgive your mistakes if you are generally a nice person; they never forget them if you behave like an ass.  Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the the Hard Part.

I've been asked to give my talk "Change from the Radical Center of Education" a couple times this spring. The focus of the workshop is about making change with humanity and empathy. One slide speaks about why one should be kind during times of change and what that looks like.  From "A Secret Weapon - Niceness":

1. Having great listening skills.
This is tough for guys. (We are, after all, guys.) I can offer advice even before I know the dimension of the problem. But I know that hearing people out is sometimes even more important than being able to help. Harvey Mackay, a business columnist states:  “You’ll know you’ve attained your goal (of being a good listener) when you can utter two sentences in an hour-long conversation, and the other speaker thanks you for input and adds, ‘You always have so much to say!’” That’s my goal.
2. Being empathetic.
A former principal who had been a guidance counselor had this system for dealing with people who were upset. He would paraphrase their statements and ask if what he just said was what they meant until they would respond with, “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.” It was only then that he knew the other person was listening and there could be a conversation. Try it sometime – it works.
3. Assuming any request is possible.
I love people whose automatic response to an idea is “anything is possible.” Now the following conversation might involve the nitty-gritty details about while although that idea may be possible it may not be advisable or describe some of the implementation challenges. But I appreciate the positive attitude. (I also like being treated as though I have a functioning brain and being given the respect of a good explanation when something can’t be done. Citing “policy” does not qualify as a good explanation.)
4. Responding in a timely manner.
We coach our tech staff to always respond to e-mails and phone calls in as timely a manner as possible. Even if it is only to say, “I got your message and I will be there on  _________” or “I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I am working on it.” Putting off responding to people never makes things better, only worse.
5. Looking for the win/win solution.
This is still the best of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” As he reminds us, a good course of action is never giving in or even compromising, but continuing to talk it over until both parties agree that the action is a “win.” Keep searching for the “third way.”  It is always there.
6. Giving the benefit of the doubt.
Library media specialists who give kids the benefit of the doubt have a special place in my heart. The response to the assertion “I brought the book back last week” should be a trip to stacks, not a dirty look. I’ve found too many books that somehow failed to get back checked in to suspect the veracity of any student.
7. Passing on compliments.
The teacher, the administrator or parent who lets me know when one of my staff did something nice for them puts the person offering the compliments on my list of nice people.
8. Analyzing before emoting.
I’ve found that a short temper has never worked in my favor – ever. In fact, when somebody gets me mad, they have “won.” Diligently practice the common definition of a diplomat: A person who thinks twice before saying nothing  - and then tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

Lately, I've spent a lot of time wondering if I've been following my own advice.  Our district is asking teachers to make a number of major changes this coming year: switching from laptops to desktops+tablets; making GoogleDocs not Office the supported productivity suite; implementing beau coup iPads throughout the district; replacing textbooks with district-created online materials organized in Moodle in our middle school social studies classes. Changes, I believe, that are in the best long-term interests of staff, students, and the district.

A lot of change, a lot of discomfort, a little resistance from teaching staff. 

May I remember to always respond to the push-back with respect, with patience, and, well, with kindness. 

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Reader Comments (5)

Dear Doug

I've only "known" you for a little while through your blog but I am completely confident that you are responding with "respect, patience, & kindness".


To me, it's more important that we keep people in the conversation than to be teaching them or moralizing. If they shut us out, what good is it if we have brilliant truths? They won't "hear" if the walls are up. In my short foray into the world of Twitter, I've already unfollowed a few people that seemed to be blasting at me or moralizing at me (in 140 characters or less). I'm perhaps extra sensitive to that because I try so very hard not to be like that. (I 'fess up that I fail very often when it comes to my own kids and my role as a Mom!)

Being kind, patient, and giving people the benefit of the doubt is not easy but it's easier if you feel secure in your self-worth and the worth of what you bring to the table. The fact you can face opposition kindly means that the message of what you bring is real. It's the people who are not confident about their worth and what they bring that are "blasting" others with it.

It is not only possible to be kind and to bring about change. I would say that it is necessary. Being kind keeps people in the conversation and it's only through participation that any change happens.

May 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVivian

Thank you for the reminder Doug! Bookmarking so I can make sure to come back to this anytime I get frustrated or angry. :)

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLissa

Thanks Doug, this could not have come at a better time. I would only add cheerfulness to your mantra! Thank you so much for these very applicable words in my professional life.

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Maklary

Hi Vivian,

I've never been able to impart a "value" to another person, I don't think. I can give them information and hope they reach a realistic conclusion. It's why I love using scenarios when talking about ethics. I suspect many have made change in unkind ways, but such changes tend to be superficial and of short duration.

Doug

Hi Lissa,

I have to re-read the list myself now and then!

Doug

Hi John,

Cheerfulness will be in the next revision. Is it better to be authentically solemn or falsely cheerful?

Doug

May 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Vivian,

I've never been able to impart a "value" to another person, I don't think. I can give them information and hope they reach a realistic conclusion. It's why I love using scenarios when talking about ethics. I suspect many have made change in unkind ways, but such changes tend to be superficial and of short duration.

Doug

Hi Lissa,

I have to re-read the list myself now and then!

Doug

Hi John,

Cheerfulness will be in the next revision. Is it better to be authentically solemn or falsely cheerful?

Doug

May 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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