It was a conversation with Tim Taylor (some weeks ago) that got me thinking about this blog title – that and some of the fun poked at the teach like and lead like idea. Tired and a little worn out after watching him teach and noting the way he responded to children (with utmost respect and invitation) I asked about questioning. He mentioned a conference he went to in which a nervous hostage negotiator spoke. He talked about listening… Really listening. How mostly, when we listen, we asked questions which were our own and led us towards our own conclusions – often predetermined

So, I did a little research in to the role of negotiation. Firstly because I found it an interesting area. I remember films like Speed (Hmm, there’s a metaphor for school leadership in there somewhere) and Phone Booth and the vital role the intermediate plays in these situations. Let me put things straight, I don’t think for a second that school leadership is like being a negotiator in a tense, life threatening situation. But, negotiation IS a skill that all good leaders need to understand.

I quickly found out that there are many areas of negotiation. In particular I loved this article about the New York Police Departments approach to ‘crisis management’.

Crisis Negotiation Skills known as the “Talk to Me”

This seems to be the ‘essential technique’ – the must have. “Talk to me” – so often I have been in the ‘talk to me’ situation but all I hear is either my own voice or silence. How we open up the communication link here is crucial. It’s about building trust and as we know that takes time. I am fascinated how a police negotiator does that in the matter of minutes or hours when many of us struggle to do this over years. I think the key is in genuine empathy. How you can put someone at ease and acknowledge their perspective even if you struggle to fully understand it.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Having Patience

Time… Avoiding jumping to conclusions. We are almost always forced to come to quick conclusions in school leadership. Results are bad – leadership is bad. Progress seems slow – teaching is bad. Behaviour has changed for the worse – discipline has gone. Quick easy answers. The negotiator needs to avoid ‘jumping to conclusions and rushing quickly to a resolution”. How often do we just jump to a conclusion – or worse still – decide on the outcome before we have even spoken to the people involved? What having patience says is the negotiator seeks to get the other party to be part of the resolution – to help resolve the situation.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Active Listening

I have heard ‘active listening’ in an education context time after time but still struggle to understand what it is in practice (This may be my issue more than others)

By active listen the NYPD mean: Asking open-ended questions, seeking clarification, driving for specificity, and then demonstrating a grasp of what the other party has said, you both learn and project empathy with your counterparts’ point of view.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Respect

I feel many people misunderstand respect. I find that I respect people more if they are open and honest with me. Sometimes this means they are saying things that others view as disrespectful. Respect comes from trust – if you invite open and honest discussion – you need to accept and respect those views. Respecting the person is not always the same as respecting the views they have.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Calm

I recently had an emergency situation in which I had to phone 999 and due to where we were and what we were doing a film camera filmed me making the call. I was shocked that my voice sounded nervous and anxious. I thought I was calm and in control but my voice betrayed me. I was clear and everything was done text book – but I was not calm. Being calm is a critical skill whether this is a medical emergency or the Ofsted call. There is nothing worse than seeing a leader unable to master their emotions in a public forum. As the NYPD say, because “the negotiator’s actions are contagious and . . . using a calm, understanding, and respectful tone is what helps the subject realize there is an alternative way out.”

I see how this works with overcoming many challenges in school leadership.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Self-Awareness

Self awareness is about understanding your purpose… what you want to achieve. I find that in school leadership this can be difficult because at times there seems to be a million things to do, when in truth there are probably only 4 or 5 that really matter. Being self aware has much to do with being strategic.

Crisis Negotiation Skills – Adaptability

Adapting to changing circumstances and responding to them in a way that meets the new demands. This is a vital school leadership skill – especially over the last few years. I feel that leaders who feel more in control were able to foresee the changes coming and adapt their leadership to guide their schools through the difficult times. The following was particularly enlightening:

 “crisis and hostage negotiation is not a ‘cookie-cutter’ design where the same approach and actions are used each time in an identical way,” and, indeed, no skilled negotiator would ever approach the bargaining table with this mindset.

Linking the skills needed to be a crisis negotiator to a school leader is a little ridiculous I know. Next week I will be writing a blog called, Lead Like a Baker where I compare the intricate skills bakers need to Performance Management. What I do find interesting is the importance such a critical role has with trust, relationship building and communication skills. They are vital in school leadership and we can always learn from other places.

So, anyone from the NYPD want to offer some CPD to a group of headteachers in the UK?