The Warm-Up Before the Work-Out

#2 (Quitting Staff): The pressures on this young man must be intense. In addition, I’m disappointed that these parents are implicitly endorsing his reneging on a signed contract. What does that say about his integrity? What would a future employer—including this investment bank—think about his failure to fulfill a professional promise? I don’t want a staff member to stay unless his head and his heart are in the game, but I also want to find a way to express my deep disappointment. What could I do in the future to prevent similar situations with other talented staff? People should follow their dreams, but not at the expense of team members to whom they have promised a certain amount of work. How will I fill this empty staff position? Should I over-hire from now on, just as a contingency?

#3 (Breach of Confidentiality): This feels like a double betrayal. I shared private information with a colleague and now she’s gone and blabbed it. I shouldn’t have said anything to anyone, but I thought I could trust my colleague. How can I clean up this mess? How can I even get angry at my colleague when she’s guilty of the same violation I am? I should tell the director of the neighboring camp that his secret is not so secret after all. Might any good come of this? I need to own this and apologize to my director friend, but I’m terrified at what he might say…and I’m furious at my own colleague. How will this affect my reputation and the reputation of my camp? How am I to understand my own need to share someone else’s personal struggles?

#4 (Counselor Trouble): This child knows something that is potentially inflammatory; maybe even dangerous. I’ve got to protect this child and create a safe space so that he feels comfortable sharing what he knows. In my heart, I believe the child wouldn’t have come to me if he didn’t want me to know and to act on what I know. I understand the ambivalence he must be feeling. At the same time, I know that nothing is more important at camp than maintaining the highest quality relationship between my staff and the young people they serve. I have a moral obligation to act, but I can’t come on like gangbusters. That might backfire and then I’ll never know what’s really going on.

If these sample contemplations sparked some additional ideas, then you’ve gained traction on a difficult skill. You’re already more likely to respond thoughtfully to the next surprising or dismaying disclosure. It might only take 5 seconds, but were it not for a bit of reflection, you might have said the following:

•To the angry mom: “Hey, it’s a T-shirt, not a tuxedo. A frayed seam won’t kill your kid.”

•To the quitting staff: “You entitled little turd! It’s so very Generation Y of you to act so capriciously.”

•To the gossiping colleague: “Damn you for disrespecting someone’s confidentiality. How would you like me to share some juicy bits about you with the rest of the staff?”

•To the concerned camper: “Everyone breaks the rules some of the time. Why don’t you head down to free swim now and let me worry about running the camp.”

So obviously unskilled are these replies that it’s laughable. So common are they that it’s unfortunate. And so easily revised are they that it’s encouraging. With a little time, perspective and silent musing, you can express yourself with confidence. And if the zinger comes in an e-mail or a voice mail, you’ll have even more time to think about—and write down—some talking points. The warm-up before the work-out is management gold.

Next time your blind-sided, get busy shutting up before you shout out.

Dr. Christopher Thurber enjoys learning from his own two children and from the students at PhillipsExeterAcademy, where he serves as the psychologist. He is the co-founder of ExpertOnlineTraining.com, a web-based training platform for youth-development professionals. Visit his website at CampSpirit.com.

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Related posts:

  1. Trust: The Currency Of Our Work
  2. Put Your Camp Store To Work
  3. Ask and Ye Shall Receive
  4. Choosing The Right Camp
  5. Camper To Campaigner

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