A Tale of Two Conversations is a two-part video showing actors playing a parent of a child with special needs and a school administrator. The meeting was requested by the parent and takes place in the administrator’s office. Take One shows the parent and administrator talking about the child’s special education program. They are talking, but not listening. Their communication is unproductive. Take Two shows each person using more effective communication skills.

All of our relationships can benefit from reflecting on and improving how we communicate. This Study Guide uses A Tale of Two Conversations as a learning tool, offering keys for more effective communication and problem-solving skills and approaches. It provides opportunities to reflect on how you communicate now and what you could do differently. The Study Guide is available for parents, educators and trainers.


1. You may find it helpful to view some of the following resources prior to viewing A Tale of Two Conversations and using the Study Guide:

  •   Positions and Interests Video

    • Definition of Positions (demands, what people say they want)

    • Definition of Interests (needs, desires, concerns or fears)

    • Shift Position to Interests

2. View A Tale of Two Conversations, Take One: First Video

This video shows a parent and an administrator discussing the parent’s request for a change in speech therapy for her son. Watch what each person does and says and notice the effect on the conversation. What behaviors do you notice that affected the communication between the parent and the administrator? Are there any points where a different choice would have made a favorable outcome more likely?

3. View A Tale of Two Conversations, Take Two:  Second Video

This video shows the same discussion with a different approach and outcome. Watch what each person does and says and notice the effect on the conversation.

Study Guide:

This Study Guide focuses on the behaviors and statements illustrated in the second video. It is divided into five Topics. Review each video clip and consider the “Question for Reflections” under each Topic. Notice that many of the questions invite personal thought (e.g., “What would you do?”). The purpose of this Study Guide is to help viewers consider ways to make their own interactions more constructive.

Topic A. Approaching a Conversation with an Attitude of Positive Regard and Respect

  • A1. Illustration from Video: The administrator greeted the parent with welcoming body language and facial expressions, and offered her coffee or water.

  • A1. Question for Reflection: What might you do to contribute to creating an atmosphere of positive regard and respect?

  • A2. Illustration from Video: The parent turned off her cell phone and focused on the subject of the meeting.

  • A2. Question for Reflection: How might you identify and eliminate sources of distraction and things that might divide or divert your attention?

Topic B. Expressing Your Perspective

  • B1. Illustration from Video: The parent asked for more speech therapy for her son.

  • B1. Question for Reflection: On occasions when you have felt very strongly, what is an example of how you could have (or did) state a position clearly and without attacking?

  • B2. Illustration from Video: The parent assertively said, “I don’t want to fully move past the option of more speech therapy for Coby, but I’m open to other things as well. Whatever helps him with that social growth he’s been missing.”

  • B2. Question for Reflection: In your experience, how do you steadily pursue a point or goal (perhaps in the face of opposition) without becoming negative?

Topic C. Listening Effectively

  • C1. Illustration from Video: The administrator asked the mother if there were any other concerns she would like to share about her son.

  • C1. Question for Reflection: Keeping the focus on the other person is a key element in listening effectively. What might be most challenging for you, in keeping the focus on the other person, when you’re experiencing strong emotion or have a point you want to make?

  • C2. Illustration from Video: The administrator, through her words and body language, showed that she understood the mother’s fear about her son being isolated and her hope for his being able to interact meaningfully with his peers.

  • C2. Question for Reflection: How do you know when someone listening to you truly understands what’s important to you?

Topic D. Understanding Underlying Interests

Reminder: Interests are the needs, desires, concerns or fears that motivate people to take a certain position or make a demand.

  • D1. Question for Reflection: What two underlying interests are motivating the administrator in this situation?
  • D2. Question for Reflection: What two interests are motivating the parent's requests?
  • D3. Question for Reflection: What two interests are shared by the administrator and the parent?

Think about a specific conflict in which you have been involved with another person. What were each person’s position? What interests were behind each of these positions?

Topic E. Building Solutions Based on Interests

  • E1. Illustration from video: The parent suggested that the speech therapist could work with other students, as well as Coby. The administrator acknowledged that instead of working only with Coby, the whole class could become involved by incorporating games.

  • E1. Question for reflection: What enabled the administrator and parent to find common ground and develop solutions that responded to mutual interests?

  • E2. Illustration from video: The parent said, “I love that idea. I think that could really help him make some progress” Both nodded affirmatively.

  • E2. Question for reflection: How can the parent and the administrator ensure that an idea they both ‘love’, is in the child’s best interest?

How to Use This in Your Life

Identify two or three ways that you might apply information from this Study Guide to challenging situations in your personal or professional life. What changes in your communication can you make that may result in more satisfying conversations and positive outcomes?

Improving our communication skills helps each of us express ourselves more clearly, understand others more fully, and make agreement more likely.