October 2010 | Vol. 31 No. 5 www.learningforward.org | JSD 63
By Jamie sussel Turner
Nearly every school I’ve worked in
has an “Anne” on its staff.
Teachers talk about how Anne
isn’t the teacher she used to be. Parents
don’t want their children in Anne’s
class. Students walk on eggshells,
careful not to upset her. Some
principals talk with Anne about the
problems they see, while others
complain about Anne to their
administrative colleagues and stick their
heads in the sand, counting the years
until she finally retires.
I know about the “Annes” in
schools because I saw this scenario
many times as a teacher and as a
principal. This is one aspect of my
leadership where I wish I had a do-over.
Many times, I felt flustered with
finding the right words to help this type
of teacher. I once told a teacher she
should consider retiring, and you can
imagine how that went over!
The confrontation model outlined
in Fierce Conversations became the key
that opened the door to help me
consider talking with Anne in a different
way — a way that could enlist Anne in
looking at the situation with me.
Here are the steps in the confrontation model:
• Name the issue.
• Select a specific example that
illustrates the behavior or situation
you want to change.
• Describe your emotions around the
• Clarify why this is important —
what is at stake to gain or lose.
• Identify your contribution to this
• Indicate your wish to resolve the
• Invite your partner
to respond.
The confrontation
model incorporates these
seven steps into a 60-
second opening
statement. Susan Scott
recommends that after
expressing these words,
you invite the other
person to talk. You sit
back and listen, digging for full
understanding when you need to. I
found it helpful to plan the statement in
advance, focusing on getting clear about
the issue I really needed to address. I
even practice my 60-second opening
statement aloud several times so that I
own the words and can deliver them
with grace and skill.
Here’s something similar to what I
said to Anne:
Anne, I want to talk about the effect
your use of sarcasm is having on the
emotional state of your students and also
the effect your decision not to incorporate
new strategies is having on your students’
engagement and learning. Last week
when I was in your classroom, you
confrontation model of conversation provides
tools to discuss and resolve tough issues

In each issue of JSD, Susan Scott
(susan@fierceinc.com) explores
aspects of communication that
encourage meaningful collaboration.
Scott, author of Fierce Conversations:
Achieving Success At Work & In Life,
One Conversation at a Time
(Penguin, 2002) and Fierce
Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the
Worst “Best” Practices of Business
Today (Broadway Business, 2009),
leads Fierce Inc. (www.fierceinc.com),
which helps companies around the
world transform the conversations
that are central to their success. Fierce
in the Schools carries this work into
schools and higher education.
Columns are available at
© Copyright, fierce inc., 2010.
collaborative culture sUsaN sCOTT
I applaud Jamie Sussel Turner’s use of the confrontation model with her staff
members. In our schools, in our lives, not speaking to the heart of the issue with grace
and skill costs us dearly. Speaking to the heart of the issue, addressing attitudinal and
behavioral issues with grace and skill, and gaining clarity about where we need to go
with our colleagues is essential and allows us to tackle and resolve our toughest challenges
while enriching the relationship.
— Susan Scott
Jamie Sussel Turner
64 JSD | www.learningforward.org October 2010 | Vol. 31 No. 5
collaborative culture sUsaN sCOTT
snapped at John for not doing his
homework. He lowered his head in his
hands to hide his tears. Also, last week I
was in the hallway and heard you sigh as
you used a sarcastic tone to tell the class,
“I wish every class was as smart as you
are.” Also, I wanted to note that during
my last observation, you lectured the class
for the entire period without engaging
your students in any discussion or
activities as our staff has been learning to
do. I am concerned about the emotional
state of your students and for their
learning. I want you to know I also feel
concern for you. I feel sad to see these
changes in your teaching since I have
always known you to be a kind teacher
who is positive with students, is willing to
try new strategies, and holds student
learning as a priority. There is a great deal
at stake for your students, for you, and for
me. The daily emotional well-being and
achievement of your students is at stake.
Your students deserve to have a teacher
who will speak to them with respect and
genuine affection and teach them in a
way that truly engages them in the
learning process. My effectiveness as a
principal is at stake because the success of
our students lies squarely on my doorstep.
I recognize that I have contributed to this
situation by not speaking with you about
this sooner in a way that clarified my
growing concerns. I apologize. You
deserved better. I hope to see you continue
and eventually wrap up your career as the
well-respected and beloved teacher who
began this career years ago.
I want to listen now. Please tell me
what’s going on from where you sit.
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
Anne angrily responded.
I calmly repeated that I wanted to
understand her point of view.
Anne took a deep breath before
launching into an explanation of her
need to continue teaching for two more
years “for the benefits.” “You have no
idea how hard it is to just make it to
school each day,” she sighed, “The
constant curriculum changes are stressing
me out, the kids can’t pay attention like
they used to, and the parents try to solve
all of their problems.”
I didn’t disagree with Anne or try to
dissuade her. I continued to listen,
paraphrasing her comments from time
to time.
After several minutes, she said she
needed time to mull over our
conversation and asked if we could
meet again in a few days.
I thanked her for joining me in this
conversation and we agreed on a time
to talk again.
About a week later, Anne and I
talked again. She spoke about how she’s
struggled since the death of her mother,
admitting that she may be suffering
from mild depression. She recommitted
to improving how she interacted with
her students and to planning more
engaging lessons. We both agreed to
check in from time to time to keep
Anne’s new goals in sight.
I used the confrontation model
many more times over the years and
found that it brings me clarity each
time. For the last several years of my
principalship, I was on a mission to
create a school culture that valued
relationships and honest conversation. I
started with myself, changing how I
engaged with others. This doesn’t mean
that I talked with every single person
about every single issue. Instead, I gave
time and space to situations and waited
to see which ones seized hold of my
attention and didn’t let go. I learned to
soften my tone and invite other people
to share their perspectives, so that
confrontation was about our combined
search for the truth.
I became calmer in confrontation
conversations because I had greater
clarity. I no longer shoved aside issues
that I had avoided talking about in the
past. This conversational model gave
me the tools I needed to tackle and
resolve tough issues. And as a surprising
byproduct of my growth, several staff
members began having successful
confrontation conversations, too.
I can’t say that by talking with Anne
I eliminated all problems with her or
between her and other staff members.
What I can say is that I felt less stress as
I now had the conversations that
previously weighed me down and more
self-confidence in my growing ability to
communicate with others in an
authentic way.
I learned that each conversation we
have builds trust in each of our
relationships. Over the years, I had
many other confrontation conversations
about conflicts over curriculum
approaches, scheduling issues,
instructional practices, absenteeism,
and more. By changing how I discussed
difficult issues, I invited others to do
the same. I like to think that my
leadership helped our school
community to talk about our conflicts
in a direct and trusting way. I saw
evidence of this in the years that
followed when many more successful
confrontation conversations led many
members of our staff to listen to one
another with greater respect and
understanding, benefitting our students
and enhancing the learning

Jamie Sussel Turner, an
elementary principal for 12 years,
mentors principals and leads Fierce
Conversations workshops. ■
Work toward full understanding
how we use this model for confrontation
is also important — i have a couple more
steps to the model that follow up on that key
opening statement. first, when you invite the
other person to give his or her perspective, be
sure to dig for full understanding, as Jamie
sussel Turner suggests. as you work towards
resolution, think about what you and your
partner have learned. where are you now?
what is your next step forward? and finally,
how will you follow up in the future with one
another? it helps to think ahead to your next
conversation as you build your ongoing
understanding and relationships.
— Susan Scott
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