Think of a doctor or caretaker you’ve trusted. How did this person make you feel? How did that person leverage their connection with you to help you?
An effective doctor invests time into building a connection with their patient. A relatively effective doctor “connects” to help the patient openly communicate about their health and/or behavior. A highly effective doctor speaks candidly about what the patient needs to do in order to improve. “Relational capacity” is the strength of a professional connection to create vulnerability and safety through open and honest conversation.
I’m an amateur at building relational capacity with my peers. Yet, this is a gap I see and strive to eliminate. I walk the halls, I stop to talk, I listen…and listen some more. I tell myself to ask questions, paraphrase, and listen.
What is that appropriate professional distance? Who does that distance really protect? A Principal shouldn’t be friends with staff, but ought to be their authentic and vulnerable self with colleagues. If they see the real you, will they not respect you? Does distance strengthen command and power? Is it easier to be more direct if you don’t need to worry about damaging the relationship?
Caveat: A caring and professional doctor does not tolerate dangerous behavior from a patient. Just as a patient would be addressed directly and seriously if he were smoking, obese, or abusing drugs, a Principal addresses behaviors that are non-negotiables in the classrooms. Sleeping students, use of profanity, and unchecked unruly behavior are just a few examples of things that don’t wait for relational capacity. Placing students first, we address these egregious examples directly.