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Plan for the expected…..and the unexpected

My partner was definitely grumpy a couple of weeks ago. The reason – stress, or more accurately fear of the unknown. You see she’s a school governor, and the school had been given 24 hours’ notice that Ofsted was coming in for an inspection (quite why they thought it was a good idea one week into a new school year, with new pupils, new staff and within a week of national mourning is beyond me but I guess they have their reasons…)

This notification of course, brought a flurry of activity including revision of the questions she thought she might get asked as a governor. The inspection seemed to go well (results pending), however my partner bemoaned the fact that they didn’t ask any of the questions that she had revised. They did ask other questions though which she hadn’t anticipated - sounds like some of my own school exams!

Unfortunately, it happens a lot when we plan ahead for a commercial conflict. Even when we’re meticulous, great planning can occasionally be counter-productive! We can spend so long revising the answers that we think we might be asked, that we become ‘brittle’ when the unexpected happens. That question we hadn’t expected can make us freeze in terror like the rabbit in the proverbial headlights. Take the new waiter dealing with a complaint on a table of 20 people – with all those pairs of eyes staring at them, the pressure builds, what are they going to do next? Alternatively, in lieu of freezing, our fear can stop us listening properly and we end up answering the wrong question.

We absolutely need to be diligent in our planning, but we also need to accept that there is a good chance the unexpected is likely to come up at some point in discussions – there’s always information we know that the other side doesn’t know and vice versa.

When this does happen to you:

  • Pause, take a few seconds, compose yourself, breathe. Use grounding/orientation/centredness techniques if you need to.

  • If necessary, ask the other side to repeat or summarise the question.

  • If you feel that you might misconstrue the nature of their question, use a qualifying question of your own first to gain more context. For example, "Can you tell me more about that", "How does this relate to the bigger picture", or "What would be your preferred outcome for this"

  • If you know the answer, great! Sock it to them. If you don’t, let them know that you want to check first and come back to them (make sure you do though)

  • Try to have subject matter expertise available if you think you might need it.

The above suggestions allow you to control ‘time’. When necessary, slow the speed down – go at the right pace for you. Now that you know that there are strategies to deal with the unexpected and the unknown – they should seem a little less scary!

The good news for the school is that there shouldn’t be another Ofsted visit for another four years (all being well), and the good news for me? I can rest in the knowledge that I won’t have a stressed or grumpy governor in the house for a while to come.

Sam Macbeth, 27th September 2022

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