My daughter has been having a group keyboard lesson once a week for a year.  For the last term, she has had a new teacher – she is passionate, technically competent and my daughter likes her, but the lessons have lost pace, have been running over, and at 45 minutes into the 1 hour lesson this week, my daughter finally got to put fingers onto keys to practice the “piece of the week”.  I couldn’t drag it out any longer.  I knew I had to have a difficult conversation.

Nobody really likes having those conversations, but they are a necessity.  Without discussing a problem and working on a solution, nothing changes, or the problem gets worse.  I felt that I had a responsibility to give the new instructor a chance to work on her timing and lesson structure, rather than just finding a new instructor.  The conversation took place, and I am hopefully that the lessons will get better.

This is one of three difficult conversations that I have had to have this week, so I thought I would share my thoughts on how to prepare for them, to give both parties the best chance to resolve the problem and avoid conflict.

  1. Plan what you want to talk about. I appreciate that conversations are two ways, and can’t be scripted out, but you need to prepare your points that you want to say, rather than blurting something out in frustration and anger.
  2. Choose a time and a place. A word in private will avoid humiliation.  Also, make sure that you both have enough time to openly discuss the problem – not just you rushing through your side.
  3. Stick to facts. Rather than generalising the problem, give examples and facts based on why the problem exists.
  4. Ensure you explain clearly why it is a problem for you, don’t be vague, or “beat about the bush”.
  5. Have empathy and consider their side in advance, anticipate why the problem exists. It may be something they are or are not aware of, and you need to anticipate how each would make them react.
  6. Be supportive and offer suggestions to resolve the problem if appropriate. However, they still need to be responsible to making a change happen.
  7. Be kind and respectful. It is not nice being on the receiving end of one of these conversations, so whilst being as honest as you can, be considerate too.
  8. Don’t forget the “feedback sandwich” where you share good things either side of the problem, so you start and finish on a positive.

I wish you all luck with any future difficult conversations and leave you with the thought that people appreciate openness and honesty.  In the long run, people will appreciate that you think that having the conversation is worth it.