In a Sunday session entitled “Working with Difficult People is like Wrestling Gators in the Bayou!”, attendees at NSBA’s Annual Conference learned that when people move out of their comfort zone, they tend to become either more aggressive or more passive. Given the challenges in public education and the pace of change, it’s inevitable that conflict will occur at every level of school leadership, including board leadership.
It’s a fool’s errand to try to get anyone to change their style and their priorities, said speaker Winton I. Goodrich, a former Vermont School Boards Association official who was recently hired to be superintendent of Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union school district in Swanton, Vt.
More effective is to change your attitude toward the person and your behavior with the person. “This is the thesis of this presentation: Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you deal with it,” Goodrich said.
It’s easier said than done, because having a confrontation with a difficult person can fire the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, Goodrich said.
Start by trying to understand what personal style a difficult person has. There four common styles:
1. Drivers who want to get things done.
2. Analyzers who want to get it right.
3. Amiable folks who want to get along.
4. Expressive types who want appreciation.
All types can be assets in board work. For instance, drivers will keep your meetings from getting bogged down, while the amiable will play a key role in consensus-building. Both are skills needed on school boards.
Equally valuable on school boards are analyzers, who want to ensure all data receives adequate attention and demand facts. For creative brainstorming, and comfort with change, turn your boards’ expressive member.
Conflict on boards and within districts is inevitable, but Goodrich said a good way to reduce it is to focus on what inspires and motivates each person to be a strong leader.
As management guru Peter Drucker wrote, “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths … making a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”