I still shake my head when my 18-year old son, Keegan, sends me a text during the school day. Not that I’m naive that he isn’t on his phone, but that he’d text me with non-urgent things frustrates me – “what’s for dinner tonight? What are we doing this weekend? I’m gonna need more money in my lunch account.”
Earlier this week during the school day, I see his name with a long text pop up on my screen. Definitely different than his usual pattern of short texts. In his text, he revealed that he wasn’t doing well in math. He admitted to not working hard and shared promises to get his act together – “I’ll stop watching YouTube so much” and “I’ll start meeting with my teacher after school”. He apologized and acknowledged that I would be disappointed to see this.
Disappointed? I was furious! Compounding the poor grade by revealing it in a text only made it worse. He didn’t have the courage to talk to me in person.
With a late meeting that night, I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to reprimand him – it would have to wait for a while. Something tells me that he knew about that late night meeting…
Waiting was good, because it allowed me to self-reflect. It took a good day for me to internalize my mindset from anger to disappointment with a calmness in approaching him with right perspective.
When I finally talked to him the following morning, he interrupted me to tell me his mistakes and plan to rectify it. He acknowledged his laziness and a complete plan from multiple angles to get back on track. As I listened, he seemed to check all the boxes that I planned in my lecture.
After he finished, I was at a decision point: continue escalating the situation with disappointment and repetitions of his words or come alongside him to move forward and champion his plan. I chose the latter.
While I was still disappointed (and voiced it to him), my ultimate goal for his success was the same as his. While he hadn’t given me a reason to believe his newfound attitude or regret, not believing him wasn’t going to be helpful. So, I made a decision to choose the path in thanking him for coming to me. While we talked about his need to come to me earlier and talk with me face-to-face the next time, I provided feedback and support in his plan to address it.
I see the same situations occur in our work with staff, students, and parents. We all make mistakes. In some instances, we have the “power” to forgive and come alongside them or count them out. We have the opportunity to dismiss them after the lecture or join them in their journey. We have the ability to make a decision.
Coming alongside doesn’t mean that we ignore the mistake, it means we mend the relationship and help move forward together.
Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly Engaged Feedback Checklist comes in handy as a self-reflection guide based on the conversation and approach I had with him.
- I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you. Give yourself time to be in this frame of mind.
- I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you). I had to internalize that his drop in grades wasn’t directed in harming me or personally attacking me.
- I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue. My initial approach was an open-ended question and then just listen.
- I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes. This was a game-changer after his initial response. He needed to know I didn’t give up on him. He needed hope.
- I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges. We decided to leverage the strengths rather than focus on his deficiencies.
- I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you. I asked how I could help him which helped to bridge a shared plan of connection.
- I’m willing to own my part. I listened to see which places I could help and then asked if he’d like me to help in those ways. Then, I asked if he had any other ways he thought I could help.
- I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings. Although I didn’t like his initial communication, I thanked him for sharing it with me. I had to ensure he’d feel comfortable to approach me again in the future rather than not even talk to me at all.
- I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity. I didn’t threaten him with the possibility of not graduating or not going to college. Instead, I focused on the need to finish the race strong and use this as a chance to persevere and do the best he could.
- I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you. I expressed a time that I waited too long to change something and not ask for help sooner. When I did, it was a lot harder. Regardless of what happens, I affirmed the need to communicate and I would be here to support him.
I challenge you to keep Brene’s Checklist posted (you can find a poster size Checklist on Brene Brown’s Download Website). The goal is not to have all 10 checkboxes covered in each conversation, but it is important to consider these areas in order to mend relationship and move forward as a leader.
Neil – I love this post. It is not only good for parents and their children but for teachers and their students. Pat Farrenkopf
Thank you for sharing your experience and reflection so openly, Neil. I have an 18 year old son too and I can relate to your story. It so resonated with me especially the way you used Brené Brown’s checklist for engaged feedback. At the end of these types of conversations, I need my son to know that I believe in him. I am in his corner as his biggest cheerleader and we can work together as he walks away back to his room with his dignity intact. I’m still working on being more consistent with responding like the way you did so I love your encouragement to keep Brené’s list accessible. Maybe I need to put it on my fridge! Gratefully, Livia