Confrontation Protocol for Principals

Chatting with a principal colleague, she pointed out that principals really needed a protocol for what to do during crucial confrontation, or as Scott puts it, fierce conversations. In a lunch conversation yesterday with a teacher friend, she shared 7 scenarios that had gone unresolved this past school year at her campus. Think about that...7 missed opportunities to improve that affected not only one teacher, but potentially, the campus.

What happens when we don't resolve these issues:

  1. Direct reports ask, "Why haven't you dealt with this YET?" When I've dealt with issues that have arisen like this, I can sense the tension dissipate from the people who ARE doing their job, but are frustrated by others who seem to flaunt the rules. What a motivator that is, right? Some are motivated, not only by doing a good job, but knowing that distractions by others are handled well.
  2. You set the staff member--who is effectively out of alignment with organizational principles--up for failure. By allowing him/her to continue, you are granting your tacit approval that their failures are OK with you, and since you're the administrator, with the rest of the organization.
  3. You call into question your ability to lead and organize work. It doesn't matter that you are great and wonderful; the failure to confront issues reflects directly on you. Most people don't like confrontation (although you have to work to change that, too) and they expect that it's YOUR job to get it done.
When we do decide to resolve these issues, how should we proceed? Based on my own experiences (some of them abject failures, but others successes over time), here's what might be considered a "protocol" for what to do. Of course, I recommend spending a lot more time reading Crucial Confrontations and listening to the audio. Most folks--and that may include you as much as me--don't have a clue when they step into the shoes of an assistant principal or principal. Simply, they don't have the tools to get the job done when it comes to coaching people who don't want to be coached, confronting issues that others would rather avoid to the detriment of school. 

I can honestly say that not one bit of my coursework in Educational Leadership doctoral studies addressed how to deal with getting people to come to agreement or dealing with confrontations. And, most people who think they know how to deal with confrontations, don't.


Principal's Confrontations... 

  1. Get Your Motives Right:
    1. Identify what you really want--what's best for the organization--for yourself (since you represent the organization as administrator) and for the other persons involved.
    2. Remember that you are acting not out of your own frustration, anger, but in the best interest of others.
    3. Avoid rushing to judgement. You are genuinely interested in identifying what happened and resolving it to the betterment of all involved.
  2. Use CPR to handle the situation:
    1. C=Content. Deal with an incident by focusing on what happened, then set clear deadlines and expectations. Avoid taking responsibility for what went wrong--unless you were responsible--and enable the other person to set things right. Begin documentation. 
    2. P=Pattern. Now that behavior has re-occurred, describe how pattern of behavior is having negative consequences on work, other's perceptions of the person. Put a description of what is happening in writing, and provide clear direction on how to avoid negative behavior going forward. Continue documenting. If you need more evidence, allow it to accrue and document.
    3. R=Relationship. If the directive issued previously is ignored, then let the staff member know they have set themselves up to be unreliable, and that you no longer trust them to get the work they were hired for done. Put this in writing, describing what has happened, how they have ignored a specific directive, and put them on notice. If they continue with their destructive behavior, they will face consequences. Depending on the documentation you have of their behavior, move to suspension or termination.
  3. Follow-through. When someone has worked their way through CPR, they've sent a clear message they don't belong. It doesn't matter how great they are, even if they are indispensable to the organization. They have irreparably damaged the relationship with the organization and are un-usable going forward. How will you ever trust them? Move to termination with all possible speed.

Image Source
Protocol. Available 08/04/2013 at
Confrontation. Available 08/04/2013 at

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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