I gave a pre-conference workshop today: Communicating Honestly... without getting your head chopped off.
I thought you might like to see a list of the main points:
To be effective, you must be a detective and a chameleon, changing your style depending on who you're talking with: High or low energy, intellectual or simple, emotional or fact-centered, nurturing or tough-love, closed-ended vs. open-ended questions, give advice or be a facilitator of their thoughts, etc.
Showing you care is among the most important things you can do.
In a particular situation, if you think it's wise to reduce the power imbalance, share a weakness, e.g., if they're sitting, you sit. Say things like, "This is hard for me."
There's usually no need to burst someone's dream. Going for their dream will likely fuel them to do the work needed to get there. Even if they don't succeed, they probably will have learned more and accomplished more from having tried than if you squelched their dream. And of course, they'll more likely like you.
If possible, avoid arguing. For example, if your client, a high school student, says, "I don't need math to be an actress," briefly acknowledge them without starting a conversation about it, e.g., "I understand," and move the conversation to somewhere you'd like it to go. For example, "You haven't been in any school plays. Would you like me to introduce you to the drama teacher?" Similarly, when a student goes off on a tangent, briefly acknowledge their point and bring the conversation back to the topic.
To keep the conversation moving where you want, give the person two or three choices, all of which you're okay with.
To minimize defensiveness, use California couching: "I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to do X. What do you think?"
When you're annoyed with a client, it's safer to say "I" than "you," for example, "I'm getting confused. Can we slow down?"
Be time-conscious. There are tools that can enable you to make a difference in just a few minutes. For example:
1. Ask the student if s/he's better with words, numbers, people, working with her hands.
2. Give her two disparate career choices within that category.
3. Based on which one she prefers, offer choices you think will be more on-target.
4. When she seems to like a career, ask her where it scores on The Meter from 0-10. If it's less than a 10, ask her, "What keeps it from being a ten?" Then propose a better-fit career.
Don't expect them to agree to do what you ask--planting a seed may be all you can reasonably expect.
Sometimes, all you can do is give them a resource: someone to talk with, a website, an article, book, etc.
Give career-finding assignments based on the student's abilities and motivation. For many special-needs students, you might want to keep it very simple: read this article, visit this site, ask your mother, etc
The perfect is the enemy of the good. Help your client take a step in the right direction. Sometimes that's all you can realistically do. Remember that you are but one influencer over another person. They are a product of their genes, their homelife, their peers, all the educators they've had, etc.
Forgive yourself. You're dealing with a challenging population. Do what you can, in the moment, and when they leave, let it go. You can only control your behavior not its outcome.
Websites listing California apprenticeships: www.calapprenticeship.org.
Remember my dad's story: Never look back; always look forward.