Thursday, April 8, 2010

Leaving Alone

I'm reflecting further on some techniques I learned from the course, "Becoming a Master Instructor". One particular module discusses conflict resolution, and how to deal with disruptive students. I've struggled like most of us have, both in the classroom and in the office, on when to confront and how hard or soft to come down on the receiver. I agonize beforehand and regret afterwards, sometimes for years. Could I have handled it better? I worry almost as much if I let the behavior slide. Am I a walkover, a chump, a patsy?

Some of the worry comes from wondering if I am doing more harm than good. Perhaps I would worry less if I reminded myself that confrontation can lead to great outcomes. The best outcome, of course, is improved behavior, restored relationship, or a smarter, kinder human being.

A new relief is the first action as described in a five step process in my course. The five steps, LEAST, are:

  1. Leave things alone

  2. End action indirectly

  3. Attend more fully

  4. Spell out directions

  5. Track participant progress

My revelation is that it is often appropriate to leave alone mildly disruptive behavior the first time I see it. It may very well be that the person had a minor slip-up or has simply had a bad day. It is fine to give people the grace to recover on their own.

This first step also gives me permission to listen to my first instincts, without feeling like a pushover. I was reminded of my daughter's dog, Ariel, a sweet tempered Afghan. Ariel is now in her senior years. She's also a big dog and as an Afghan, alarmingly fast when she wants to be. It's a pleasure to walk this beautiful animal. I might as well be walking a cloud, she floats along so easily beside me.

On our walks we sometimes come across less disciplined dogs. Ariel and I don't always know, with these little wild dogs, if the outcome will be good or bad. They've sometimes run circles around us, snapping, yipping, and dodging. I've watched with interest Ariel's response. Her first action is to quietly run away. If that doesn't work, she swiftly moves in, much faster than the little dog expects, and gives a warning snap. The little dog leaves or submits. That's all this sweet, old, arthritic Afghan has had to do.

During her long doggy life, I think Ariel has figured out a thing or two. There's no use looking for a fight, especially when an old girl has enough aches and pains to worry about. But if that doesn't work, give the ignorant a swift lesson. But make it as fast and as painless as possible.