You’re in a meeting with an irate parent that seems way out of control. You care deeply about your students—all of them. Why can’t this mom see that?
It often makes you angry to have a parent yell at you or complain about you or the school. Your heart can race and your palms go sweaty. You either feel attacked and want to defend yourself, or you want to hide under the desk.
There are plenty reasons why parents become irate, from miscommunication and misunderstanding to a lost paper or assignment. An angry parent is usually misunderstood herself, or has a simple misconception, but underneath it all, one thing is certain: he or she loves their child.
Love—and fear—is the root of a parent’s anger. That mom or that dad will move mountains for their child.
The key for me has always been that I’m also a parent. I understand the thoughts a parent harbors. It doesn’t mean I would behave the same, or say the same things. But I just understand—through listening and understanding—that we can find the key to getting their unwavering support, no matter how angry they are.
Try this simple step-by-step approach to begin turning any irate parent into your biggest fan. You’ll be on your way to getting their support for the rest of the year.
Step 1. Thank them. Begin any meeting or conversation with, “Thank you for meeting or talking with me. It shows you really care.” And you have to mean it. Be sincere. Thanking them first will shift the mood almost immediately.
Step 2. Listen. Steven Covey—and one of his 7 habits—-lets us know that effective leaders “seek first to understand—and then be understood”. It’s essential that you listen compassionately to their story and their problems.
Step 3. Reflect. Reflecting back what the parent says reinforces that you heard them and you understand their feelings. The technique of reflecting is used in coaching and counseling, and allows you to gain immediate trust. Bonus: the parent will feel relief that you understand their perspective.
Step 4. Seek to be understood. After you’ve expressed your gratitude, know where they’re coming from, you can then graciously and kindly share your concerns. You’re acting and speaking from a place of love and caring for their child. At this point, the conversational roles have shifted from adversaries to a team that’s only doing what’s best for the child.
The parent-teacher team is essential for all students. If the loving adults in their lives aren’t on the same page, it’s an uphill battle for your students who need you the most. Practice this four-step approach to these conferences and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the adults, parents and teachers, can come together for the good of children.