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COPE faculty train others in handling difficult talks

Workplace comedies like “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation” present conflicts between co-workers as humorous. In real-life, though, workplace disagreements rarely are wrapped up in half an hour, and the situation often reaches an impasse.

This is true in education settings as well, whether in dealing with difficult colleagues, students who are protesting their grades, or a host of other scenarios. Help is available, though. Texas Woman’s University teacher education faculty members Laura Trujillo-Jenks and Peggy Malone (both Denton) are using Crucial Conversations® by VitalSmarts® to train others to deal with confrontations, difficult situations and difficult people more effectively.

The company describes a crucial conversation as “a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.” The program, it says, gives people the skills to turn disagreement into dialogue for improved relationships and results.

Trujillo-Jenks said the training has been presented to personnel at McKinney ISD and the University of Texas at Dallas in addition to various departments at Texas Woman’s. She also incorporates Crucial Conversations tips in leadership presentations she conducts with her colleague Rebecca Fredrickson (teacher education, Denton).

“When we presented about a month ago, three people from other universities contacted us to present to their faculty,” Trujillo-Jenks said. “It becomes more sought-after when we present or talk about it with others.”

Malone said the training also is offered through an ELDR (educational leadership) course in the summer.

“The course requires students to develop two scripted conversations for practice and hold one actual conversation using the Crucial Conversations model,” she said. “Also, videos of crucial conversations are used to illustrate this model.”

Malone said the training focuses on developing the word choices, clarity and style that support your initial goal. The planning component is focused on “what do you really want” from the conversation.

“The feedback most often received from the training participants is that their focus on ‘what they really want’ shifted as they planned the conversation and used the Crucial Conversations model,” she said.

Malone said the Crucial Conversations model does more than demonstrate how to resolve disputes.

“It provides a framework to develop, deliver and sustain a collaborative discussion throughout the organization,” she said. “Dialogue history, consideration of environmental factors and follow-up actions can successfully impact career planning and performance.”

Professional practices and professional learning also can be explored utilizing the Crucial Conversations model, she said.

Trujillo-Jenks has been involved in Crucial Conversations training approximately nine years, but jokes that she used the training even before then.

“When I was a school principal and assistant principal, I called these conversations a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting,” she said with a laugh. “This was before I even knew Crucial Conversations existed.”

Trujillo-Jenks recalled a conversation she had as a new principal appointed to an elementary school.

“A kindergarten teacher was spreading misinformation about me, saying I had only worked at the high school level, didn’t understand little children, and so on,” she said. “Because these rumors were causing a lot of anxiety among the other teachers, I knew I had to step in.

“This teacher and I sat down and told each other what we knew and thought about each other. Then we both corrected the misinformation about each other and came to a plan of action on how to work together. We both felt amazing after this meeting, and she became my biggest supporter! That was nearly 20 years ago, and I am still friends with that teacher.”

This is the type of situation for which Crucial Conversations was designed. Trujillo-Jenks said she has received good feedback from the training presentations.

“Most people hate confrontation, but it’s necessary in many instances, which makes things difficult,” she said. “Crucial Conversations helps anyone have the tools to approach an impasse that is preventing two or more people from being productive and successful.”

Contact Trujillo-Jenks at or Malone at if your group or department is interested in Crucial Conversations training.


By Karen Garcia
Marketing & Communication