The Power of Clarifying Conversations with Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams
Effective Teaching and Learning
10 Minute Read
March 22, 2022

In this #coachbetter episode, Kim chats with Jennifer Abrams, author of (among many others) Having Hard Conversations, Swimming in the Deep End, and Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work!

Kim and Jennifer talk about the intersection of coaching and leadership and in particular the power of clarifying conversations. As coaches, and leaders, these conversations are not always easy, but their importance can not be undervalued. If you’re looking for strategies to manage these kinds of clarifying conversations in your role, this episode is for you!

Jennifer is also featured in our Women Who Lead Certificate Program, and this conversation is like a window into one of the modules within the program – “Handling Difficult Conversations”. Women Who Lead is an 8-module online Certificate Program designed for aspiring and growing leaders, featuring the voices and experience of over 70 successful female leaders from around the world. Women Who Lead will empower you to articulate your leadership potential so that you can overcome the many challenges faced by women seeking leadership positions in the field of education.

Show Notes

Please tell us a little bit about how your work has evolved over time (a little bit along the lines of what we talked about for WWL (Women Who Lead), I would love to hear you talk about the “voice coach” aspect of your work and how that can apply in a school setting)

English teacher before I started working with adults. Coaching happened because I became a coach. Helping people stand up and find their voice as a teacher. Moved to work with new teachers and they had to find their “teacher voice” – working with teachers who were beginning teachers. Finding their identity as a teacher. We have credentials in how to teach students or subjects, but we don’t have credentials in how to talk effectively to other adults. We have to find our voice in moments of advocacy, collaboration, hard conversations, and leadership.

If you’re going to speak to a Board of Trustees meeting, talking to a supervisor, a parent, a KG teacher, you’re using your authenticity, but you’re changing your voice.

Helping people with credible and approachable voice

One of the most challenging things we have to do as educators is have difficult conversations, what are some key strategies we can learn to make them easier? What are some great ways to practice building those skills?

Who’s going to do it? If I see something that is educationally unsound, physically unsafe, or emotionally damaging, if I don’t speak up, I’m betraying myself.

Clarifying conversations need to happen so much more than they have been. What are our roles, what is our job, whose responsibility is this, etc.

Clarifying conversations vs hard conversations: fuzzy becomes conflict. Need to be able to name exactly what needs to be addressed. Do not have a hard conversation if you’ve not had a clarifying conversation. Many places where we’re angry but we don’t know why. We’re not clear, but we’re embarrassed about that, so we make the other person ‘wrong’.  Clarifying conversations can stop hard conversations from happening. Have the conversation without being pejorative or diminutive. Get on the same page. “Call in” to expectations, language, and frameworks for expectations (from social justice work).

So many levels at which we can work before we do what people fear of the hard conversation.

Don’t make the other person wrong if you haven’t articulated expectations.

Practice – what skills do we need? Choose language carefully, be explicit in expectations.

What do these words mean? Is there a time frame? What does this look like?

Timelines, communication agreements

If you haven’t clarified what the expectations look like in terms of this specific role, that’s not clear enough. The person with the most authority or perceived power should be the person providing clarity and expectations, but that may not happen. How do you ask a supervisor for more clarity? Can you give me specific actions that I could take?

  • Here is the problem we’re trying to solve
  • Here are the people we sought input from
  • Here’s the data
  • Here’s what we’re going to do in a general way
  • Here’s what each person will do
  • Here’s the support you will need

Clarity before accountability – define this in writing, using a font that gives her a voice

How do you ask for help? How do you seek clarity? Every adult needs to take responsibility for seeking guidance

Do you wish you could make a bigger impact in your school setting? Is this the year you commit to your own leadership potential? Or will it be another year you’ll spend saying you’re not ready “yet”?

As an experienced educator, you are likely demonstrating leadership skills every day, by building quality relationships, or managing teams, or having coaching conversations. But if you find it hard to recognize your own leadership capacity, you might be experiencing feelings commonly referred to as “imposter syndrome.”

Many educators, especially women, allow these feelings to keep them from taking the next step in their career. If that sounds like you: stop letting negative self-talk hold you back!

Learn how to crush your imposter syndrome before it gets to you with our new FREE Workshop: Seeing Yourself as a Leader: Overcoming the 5 Common Myths Holding Women Back, available right now!

Inside the workshop you’ll get a sneak peek into some of the rich conversations inside Women Who Lead, and hear from very successful leaders who still struggle with imposter syndrome – as well as how they’ve learned to handle it. If you can, pause this podcast episode right now and head over to to register – the workshop is only available for a limited time! But, because I know how busy you are: it’s pre-recorded, so you can watch anytime once you register, and then pause or replay whenever you’re ready.

Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back this year! Access the workshop now at

Please tell us about your new book! Where did the idea come from and how is it shaping (shaped by) your current work?

Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) At Work

The work we’re doing at schools is so complex and requires so much effective teamwork to achieve the shared vision. The adults in schools do not have credentials in how to talk effectively to other adults. They have an aspiration to work effectively for the good of the students. Is there more we can learn at our edges to be an organization that learns together? What would it take from each of us to be better group members, better adults in the world?

Using Robert Keegan’s Adult Developmental Theory as an underpinning. Even though we’re physically grown, there’s so much more to learn about ourselves.

Knowing our identities: how we’ve been shaped, what our backgrounds are, worldview, and how that impacts your working with someone else, maybe you have unconscious beliefs

Can we suspend our certainty? Instead of saying “yes or no”, stop yourself and ask “say more about that”

Take responsibility for our language and professional development, how to express a concern and not a complaint

Engage in Reciprocity: I believe you are equal to me, you deserve mutual respect and dignity. I want to engage in an equal relationship, learn from you and with you. Collaborative skills, linguistic agility

Build Resiliency: how do you sustain yourself amidst chaos, how do you deal with your grief and disappointment, take care of psychological hygiene so you do not ooze your stuff all over everyone else. Be resilient enough to show up as the grown-up we need you to be. Self-care

Jennifer Abrams "The Power of Clarifying Conversations with Jennifer Abrams", as originally published on YouTube and #Coach Better , 03-22-2022,

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

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