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Monday, September 09, 2013

Key tips to get along with angry colleagues

I sit here at 7:11 watching Shadow and Krispy, the cats, eye each other in a circle wondering who will attack first. Oops. There they go. Krispy delivers a paw to the chest and Shadow lands a clean blow on the head. Now they are taking a moment to lick and they'll be back at it before the clock clicks another minute.

I wonder why they fight. Shadow was saved from the jaws of four of the dogs at the farm almost a year a go. I'm not sure why people put unloved, unwanted pets out at Aunt Nan's house because she has some pretty scary looking dogs out there.

Shadow just looks innocent laying here in my arms one night. He's always ready to start a fight. ;-)

We couldn't resist. Shadow was a baby kitten and had no where to go and we know that Boots and Krispy are getting on up there in age. We bought them home on Easter weekend when my son who is at college was 8 or 9. So, although they look great, I guess these cats are getting on up there. Maybe even as old as me. I turned 44 this year.

I always accuse Krispy of being "sorry." He does little but sleep. But he's been part of our family a long time and even though he's not so smart, we do care about him.

I'm not one of those women who is ashamed of her age. Maybe I should be. My students don't really know how old I am - maybe it is because I'm a bit out there. I feel 18 most of the time except when I kneel beside them on my left knee and feel it crack.

Shadow is lucky but Shadow is the new cat on the block competing for the same cushion and the favorite place on Kip's lap. Yet, here I am watching Shadow and Krispy and I wonder why they will always fight.

I'll tell you why they always fight. They fight because Shadow starts it. Every single time.

Now. You might be a catologist and know all about why cats really fight, but go with me here.

There are many colleagues like Shadow. Innocent when the boss man is around but causing trouble as soon as his back is turned. We need to have a peace environment for the sake of the children.

There are some animals who fight as a way of life. There are also some humans who do it too. A good rick rolling temper-flaring red-seeing fight is what they do. They are like Shadow, always circling someone ready to pounce. Some for entertainment and others because they saw it at home and a thousand other reasons that psychologists will lecture you about. Why people fight is not a simple thing.

Just don't let this be you. You can' do anything about the other guy but you can control yourself.

Don't let it be in front of students.I hate it when adults tie up in front of kids. Whether it is a parent jumping on a teacher (which is not ever a good thing) or two teachers disagreeing - it should go outside or away.

Kids are very black and white. I "like you" or I "don't like you." How many times do they come up to you and say "so and so isn't my friend any more."


They don't understand how adults can have a heated professional disagreement over a subject at work yet still enjoy eating lunch together. It isn't in what they do.

Avoid them if you can. I've just learned that some people are like Shadow and they are best avoided. I don't know why Slingshot Sally or Buckshot Bill are always armed and ready to go but you don't have to engage them. You don't have to ruin your day and take them on.

Learn to be wise when dealing with difficult people. It is frustrating that certain people can be so tough to deal with but there are reasons. Early in my career I listened to a tape series "Dealing with difficult people" and the cover of the book had two people shaking hands. One of the person's hands were green and barbed like the skin of a cactus.

The day shadow joined us (shown here on my leg) we had no idea we were adopting such a firecracker. He picks on the other cats relentlessly. There are some in schools who do this too.

This is a great picture for me because it reminds me that some people are just naturally difficult to shake hands with. If I want to be the person who enjoys this life, if I can learn to be firm but kind. If I can be wise about how I use my voice (Did you know if you lower your voice and make it quieter as you pause, that you can deescalate a conversation?)

Treat it like a game. I admit, I've done this before. I've seen how many days in a row I can go getting along with certain people. Realize that "getting along" and "giving in" are two different things. You have to stand up and be professional. I've just found that I have to realize my part in the whole matter. It doesn't escalate unless I let it escalate. I even cut a deal with my husband "If I don't tie up with so and so all week - I get a prize." Sounds silly but it works and lowers my blood pressure.

Because we love kids we want them to have a good learning environment, not a toxic one.

Stand up when it is necessary. If you're ALWAYS arguing with a difficult person, they won't ever know when it is little stuff or big stuff. There are times you will need to get angry. Some angry people are bullies. Sadly, I've found that many bullies only understand one thing: someone standing up to them in the way they are accustomed. There are times -- not as many as you might think -- when you need to stand up. When you need to stick up for yourself or something is going to be done in a way that isn't good for a child. I hate losing my temper and do it rarely but there are times to go in a private place and deal with it.


Make sure it isn't you. It is also important to evaluate the circumstance. I give it the spouse test. If there is someone at work I'm always going home and mentioning to Kip - and he knows I'm struggling - then I have a problem. I ask myself if that person is "tying up" with other people. If they are known to be argumentative, then I relax and start working on strategies to get along. If they don't argue with many people but do with me -- then it is time to look at my own actions and behaviors. What am I doing to cause this?

Power and personality differences are often two components in this. Some even have triggers because someone reminds them of someone else. Sad but true.

Why is keeping the peace so important?

We aren't a Fortune 500 business. We aren't Wall Street or the Capitol Building or a back street. We work in schools. We work with tomorrow's leaders.

Sometimes kids don't hear what we say because our actions are yelling too loud.

Think of their circumstances. Every year they are thrown together with 30 people they don't know. Hopefully there are a few they love but there are always kids they can't stand. They can't leave. They can't ask for a transfer (not usually.) They have no say over whether they'll be at that school or in that class. Absolutely none at all. They have to get along.

All these kids have is a budding psyche that is just learning to get along with others and the examples they see every day. They are watching us. How do we get along? How do we argue? Is our school a good place to be? Do people smile at each other? Do they ever laugh? Do some teachers enjoy being together? Do we have interests outside school?

Toxic environment, Toxic school

When the environment is toxic, people know it but more importantly the kids know it. Sadly, they know it.

When times get tough, many people struggle with staying positive. This spills over into work relationships and into family. We have among us some great people who might just be dealing with a raw deal.

But we have among us an opportunity. I'm going to tell you what many of you tell the kids: "Why can't we just all get along?"

The rule at our school is if kids get in a fight - they both go to the office. We can't have kids fighting in schools.

Yet in some schools (so I hear) disagreements between colleagues, administration, and even parents and teachers is pretty toxic. We have a double standard. Kids fight and go to the office but two colleagues disagree publicly and often the principal is the last to know. Some principals even make the mistake of passing judgement before they hear both sides in adult arguments when they would never do so with kids.

If your school or your building is toxic due to one or more people, I'm just asking you - for the love of kids - take steps to deal with the problem. Many relationships are not as simple as the advice I've given here. Toxic environments are bad for everyone. Toxic often starts at the top. If more school boards and administrators and teachers would realize that it is all about relationships then many schools would be better off.

When school boards argue and force people to take sides on nonessential issues, it is not good for the school system. Some issues are important to take sides on but we need to realize that we should all be on the same side when it comes to the school itself. There are times to make decisions and move forward. It is always time to stand together and get along for the good of the school and the kids.

If there is an adult who can't hold his or her temper and is always spouting off at people - perhaps that person is in a job ill suited to their temperament.

My Aunt Chandra answered phones at the local public high school for more than 30 years - she never gets angry at anyone. She was a gift to that school because she was a soft first hello for anyone who called. They missed her when she left. When I was a manager in the business world, I made sure that the first voice people heard was pleasant, helpful, and informed -- it prevented having people yell at me as they traveled up the line. Just a kind, warm person greeting callers makes a huge difference.

Let's love the kids. Let's think of them. Let's do what it takes to work together and get along - the future is counting on us. Not all schools have these problems but enough do that it is worth writing about. These are tough times for schools, teachers, and administrators but we have to cope how we can deal with tough issues without being tough hearted and argumentative. We have to be functional in how we disagree and to understand that when we're struggling to get along that it is often signs of deeper issues that need to be handled.

OK, the cats are asleep and it is time to clean the kitchen. I guess even fussy kitties get tired sometimes.


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