A recurring challenge for a principal—? Adults who can’t seem to get along.
Adults are, of course, all grown up—so we can’t just shake our pointer finger and demand that they STOP IT, like we would a petulant child. We can’t force “time out” or send them to their rooms until they have an attitude change. It’s much more delicate and layered than that—and difficult to get beneath the snark and pot-stirring to reveal (and address) the real issue.
Besides—basic truth, here: it’s really, really hard to change the way adults interact with one another.
But it can be done. Not by force or threats—but by helping adults see why it’s important (and easier) to get along. Why we’ve got to give one another a break and find the good in one another.
In a lot of ways, the people we work with are like family. Think about it: How many times have you felt so mad at a family member you want to flee the whole scene, go to anyplace on earth where you can be alone? How many times have your flashes of love and hate been impossibly intermixed? Isn’t it true that your family can drive you, in equal parts, toward your best self—and to the point of black rage?
But… who do you call when you are low and alone? When you have the flu? When you need a ride, a fresh start, someone whose love is guaranteed?
Family, that’s who.
I was visiting a school recently in which I was, ironically, speaking to teachers about working through conflicts with parents. In this particular school, teachers were feeling as though they didn’t know how to deal with parents who were pushy or aggressive with them.
When I arrived early in the morning, the principal asked me if I’d like a cup of coffee. He led me to the Kuering in the lounge. As I filled my cup, by eyes fell on a sticky note someone had put on the cabinet above the sink.
I felt my eyebrow rise up.
“I know,” he sighed. “That’s really why you’re here.” Sheepishly, he admitted, “It’s not just a parent problem we have. It’s a big, fat, adult problem. Not just us with parents... it's also us with one another.”
Working closely with other adults is really hard; I get it. I’ve been as furious as the next guy about filthy dishes in the sink. I’ve had that flash of hot anger when someone doesn’t fill up the copy paper. When someone talks over me, or under me, or through me. I have gotten spitting mad and had the urge to reach for my Post-It notes and my angry Sharpie. And it has taken a good bit of time to learn how to self-talk my way toward letting it go.
But over time, I’ve come to learn this: As many times as I’m right, I’m wrong. As many times as I think someone else is being a real jerk, I’ve been a real jerk. It’s a humbling realization—but empowering, too. We’re all right, and we’re all wrong, and sometimes it’s just easier to take a moment and wash the dishes and move on with things.
Here’s the thing, people. We need to take care of one another. This job requires teamwork and camaraderie and the loyalty of family. We can’t live in a resting place of anger, especially not at the people who are in the trenches with us. They are our tribe. They might be any number of things—annoying, selfish, frustrating, rude, passive, aggressive but so are other people in the world. (Insert self reflection here...)
We can get along if we do one thing: Cut one another a big fat break.
Once we do that, we can work through almost anything. Including dirty dishes.