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Managing ourselves, managing others

Arguably, one of the most pressing issues when it comes to school admissions is the lack of concrete definition as to what the job actually entails. 

The more I think about it, however, the more I am convinced that there are three distinct competencies that define our art; three aspects of our role that can be captured by three simple words: story, process, and people.

It goes without saying that we are managers of a process.  All those forms, documents, reports, data entries, and online questionnaires have to be coordinated and aligned in order to ensure that the right decisions are made at the right time by the right people.  It is the Admissions Office that captures this information and facilitates its movement around the school.

What is equally obvious is our storytelling role within the school.  I have elsewhere spoken of the communications ‘backbone’ of the school, of which the Admissions Officer is a critical component.  Any school that can point to an alignment between the Board Chair, Director, Communications Director and Admissions Officer is already in a good place. 

The purpose of this article, however, is not to speak to either of these competencies, but rather to float the suggestion that one of the most important and yet under-rated aspects of our job is the whole business of managing ourselves and managing others.

Most of the time, one of the reasons why people are offered positions in school admissions is because they have highly developed ‘people skills’.  They are personable, friendly, and can relate across a range of social and cultural barriers.  They often speak more than one language and are able to communicate in ways that others understand.

However, being a ‘people person’ and knowing how to manage people effectively – particularly when those we come into contact with may sometimes be anxious, manipulative, aggressive, or just plain rude – are two different things and, in my experience at least, we spend little time thinking about and reflecting upon the complexity of the interpersonal relationships we encounter almost on a daily basis.  We give even less thought to the emotional strain that these relationships have upon our own professional and personal sense of well-being.

And over time, if left unchecked, there is no doubt that these things tend to take their toll.

So how do we manage ourselves by learning to ‘manage’ the relationships we have with others?  How do we respond when we encounter ‘difficult’ people?

This was a question we took to a recent team Away Day at the International School of Brussels.  Facilitated by a local coaching expert, who also brings experience of research in neuroscience, we took a day to think about how often we encounter these challenging situations, what it feels like to be placed in this position, how the brain responds, and – critically – strategies for managing both our own response and framing the expectations and responses of those around us.

The day was just the beginning of a much longer conversation; just as this article is intended to do no more than throw out into the mix the suggestion that a definition of admissions that does not give serious consideration to the importance of managing complex human relationships at a time of transition is no definition at all.

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