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(#19)  How to Discreetly Communicate with Colleagues

[Tactfully Saying NO]

As you wrap up the school year, you might want to add a few thoughts about next year and the changes you’ll make.  Will the following be on your list? 

One day at school, the principal stopped me in the hall, “Hey, Char, I’ve been meaning to ask you a question.  Will you head up the Young Authors Conference this year?  I quickly responded, “Okay, sure, I can do that; no problem.”  And kept walking. 

After thinking about it I had second thoughts.  My regret wasn’t because I was unable to do the task, or that it wasn’t a good thing to do, but because MY PLATE WAS FULL, MY DANCE CARD WAS FILLED, and I WAS UP TO MY EYEBALLS! 

Saying YES, then later rescinding is worse than saying NO in the first place, so I just did it.  I squeezed it in, at the exclusion of other things—primarily, sleep and therapy, in this case. 

One large task or many small tasks or intrusions beyond our regular routine consume time.  After all, there are just so many minutes. 

We SLPs are not in a helping profession by accident.  It’s in our DNA.  It’s what we do:  We help.  But is always helping and acquiescing the best thing to do?  Maybe, maybe not.  That one-more-thing we put on our plate may propel us into overload.  Our productivity—not to mention our attitude—declines. 

Just WHY do we do that? 

Why Some of Us Automatically Say YES 

In reference to the above example, I plead guilty to several of the following.  You may, or may not relate; you be the judge:

  • We are conditioned from childhood to be polite (which is a good thing), and we become eager to please.
  • We think that saying YES will please others, but frequently we don’t consider our own consequences.
  • Some of us interpret saying NO as rude.
  • Saying YES becomes a habit. When asked, we don’t think and reflect, we respond.
  • Sometimes, we say YES to avoid conflict.
  • We think saying NO may harm our relationship with that person or impugn our reputation.
  • We think that frequently saying YES will enhance our reputation; other’s will view us as highly capable.

When you catch yourself automatically saying YES, take a moment to reflect WHY.  What “made” you say that?  Was there an alternative answer you could have used? 

So, what can we do?  In brief, ONE, learn to say NO tactfully and intelligently, and TWO, manage, prepare for and anticipate the small, everyday intrusions. 

We must not only manage our time but manage our communications.  

I’m big on options; here’s a few. 

My Favorite—Carry a Clipboard!

When I was in the schools, one of the most beneficial things I ever did was carry a clipboard; it was red, my favorite color.  Sounds crazy, I know.  But it saved me time, I always felt prepared, and if need be, I could immediately document quick conversations.  I rarely had to say, ‘Just let me go back to my room and check on that for you.’  I had most of what I needed with me. 

In my therapy room (or, my Communication Class; see the Therapy Matters on this topic), it was always perched on top of the bookcase by the door.  When I left the room, I grabbed it and took it with me.  It was with me every second of the day.  It contained: 

  • My Therapy Schedule – I’d keep a couple of them with me just in case I needed to share.
  • My Meeting Calendar – Eligibility, IEP, RTI, grade-level, staff, special ed, parent, etc.
  • Blank Teacher Interview sheets (feel free to click on and downloadand print this form) – When a teacher would come up and say, “I have this kid….”, I’d either talk with the teacher about the child at that moment in time, or, I would write the child’s and teacher’s names on a clean Teacher Interview sheet, and say, “I would love to hear about the child, but I’m off to ____, right now. Can we meet at ____ time?”  Write it on your Meeting Calendar.  (Further down the list I talk about adding a flex half-hour to your day.  This is usually when I scheduled the teacher’s meeting.)
  • The School Schedule – This can be a lifesaver to have at your fingertips; it may contain grade-level lunch times, when classes change or rotate, teacher’s break times, etc.
  • Lined-pages – I could never rely on my memory, so I just kept a running sheet of miscellaneous, time-ordered notes. For example, let’s say that your resource specialist comes up and says, “Johnny’s IEP is next Tuesday at 3:30.  Instead of trying to remember and recall the date and time, just jot it down on your lined-pages and/or on your Meeting Calendar.
  • Blank pages and blank sticky notes (for others and for me), and
  • A pen or pencil

What are They Really Asking? 

A teacher stops you in the hall and wants to talk about a new child she wants you to look at.  You have a system in place for that, but the teacher wants personalized time; she wants to circumvent your system.  A quick minute turns into ten, and now you’re behind in your therapy schedule.  Instead of the kids getting 30 minutes, they get 15 or 20. 

Tactfully remind the teacher of the system.  Perhaps you have a form that you want them to fill out.  The form is available on the bulletin board outside your door (or maybe you have one on your clipboard that you can hand her).  Say something to the effect, “Please fill-out this form; it really helps me.  It documents your request so I can follow-through for you.” 

Ask Questions

Indicate you are listening to their request, but briefly delay your answer while you ask questions and they respond.  Instead of immediately saying YES or NO, ask for additional information about the task.  Give yourself some pondering time.  Think about your time and energy availability and if the task involves a learning curve, or not. 

Delay Your Answer

Say, “I hear you.  Let me think about that.  I’ll get back to you tomorrow by 3:00.”  Either respond verbally or in the form of an email, by 3:00.  Specifying your response time-range lets them know you’re serious.  Just saying “I’ll get back to you” is open-ended and may come across as flippant. 

Covet Your Minutes

Seconds and minutes accumulate into hours.  As much as possible, stay on your schedule; stay on track.  Anticipate and ward-off interruptions. 

Sometimes teachers just want (or need) to talk.  Say, “Oh, yeah, I hear ya, but I’ve got a meeting in 10 minutes.”  Look at your watch.  Or, instead of trekking down to the classroom in the middle of the day to ask a teacher a question, either call, email, or put a note in her box (if it’s nearby).  

If at all possible, set a specific time each day to do these types of communication tasks, i.e., GROUP THEM…. 

Schedule and Set Clear Boundaries

My days in the schools were comprised of evaluations, therapy, paperwork, meetings, and a bunch of little things that took more time than I realized.  As much as possible, GROUP the “little things.”  They add up.  

For example, I scheduled an “open” half-hour prior to lunch; it really helped.  I could use it to plan the rest of my therapy-day, or for paperwork, or for quick communications with teachers, phone calls, etc.  On occasion I flipped it; I ate lunch at the earlier time and used my actual lunch time for a meeting.  It was virtually an hour and fifteen minutes of flex time, every day, and I didn’t miss seeing any kids.  (I was once in a district where all the SLPs had flex time every Friday afternoon.  It was nice, but having a flexible half-hour every day, in the middle of the day, was more beneficial for me.) 

What if you need that time for therapy (and who doesn’t?).  I know this is not a satisfactory answer, but, FIND A WAY to carve out the time.  For example, put a child in a group that works but isn’t optimum; reduce a couple therapy half-hours to 25 minutes (do Addendums) and increase your dedication and follow-through with speech homework for those kids.  

Question:  If you could re-structure your day for next year, how would you do it.  What would be good for YOU? 

Lastly, Eat Your Lunch and Take a Break!

I know, this is not about communication, but it is about sanity and use of our time.  

It’s almost universally understood that lunchtime is also paperwork-time.  We’re good at simultaneously munching and typing.  However, PLEASE TAKE TIME FOR YOU—even if it’s only 5 minutes.  Get out of your therapy room.  Go down to the faculty lounge.  Sit outside.  Take your tennies to school and go for a brisk walk around the playground.  Breathe some air and look at some trees.  Your body and your brain need it.  And your therapy-kids will thank you for it. 

And I THANK YOU for your selfless dedication and good work you do with your kids, teachers, and parents. 

Have a great week!



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