January 17,  2020

Hard Conversations

Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.


3 Big Ideas

Prospective principals are often concerned about having hard conversations with teachers and parents. As I explain to the graduate students in my class on educational leadership, the approaches for hard conversation in any organization are presented in the 3 Big Ideas below.

  1. Understand the type of conversation you are having. I find these can flow from one type into the next. Jennifer Abrams, in her book Hard Conversations Unpacked, identifies four types of conversations:
    • Cease and Desist: Direct that illegal or unethical behavior must be stopped immediately.
    • Hard Conversations: Held after standards and expectations are fully understood. Describe impact of current and future behaviors.
    • Clarifying Conversations: Describe standards and expectations and put all parties on the same page
    • Coaching Conversations: Provide support and a more self-directed analysis plus reflection of one’s work in relation to standards and  expectations.
  2. Make a plan for each hard conversation that includes what the specific observable problem is; what you want to see instead; what support is needed, and what support you have to offer. Actually write it out!
    See “How To Have Difficult Conversations At Work” from Forbes.
    See Just ASK Deeper Dive: Difficult Conferences.”
  3. As I have learned from my life experiences, don’t ignore having a hard conversation. Typically, the problem will not go away and often gets worse. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. Be honest and benevolent with your words. As I learned from Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations, let silence do the heavy lifting. Don’t try to fill every minute with words. Include space to breathe, process, and discover.



“Nothing important comes with instructions” -James Richardson

Our assumptions about intentions are often wrong.” – Douglas Stone, author of Difficult Conversations and a lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

1 Question

How might generational differences impact how you plan for potentially hard conversations?
See “How to Manage Generational Differences in the Workplace” from Thomas Insights.

About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.


Want to receive EmpowerED 3.2.1 in your inbox?



Share this blog