When parents are angry


One of the most satisfying aspects of being an assistant principal is building relationships with the families in the school district.  I view every parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle who walks into my office as an opportunity to build a new relationship.  As a parent, I know that I feel good about the relationship I have with the administrators in my child’s school district.  I know I can call them if I need to, and my daughter can go to them if she needs anything.  I want the same for the parents and students in the district where I work.

When a parent comes to my office, most of the time it is unannounced and I have no idea why they have come to see me.  I don’t know if they are mad and upset, or if it’s a simple situation with an easy fix.  I immediately start reading their body language looking for any outward signs that may give me a clue about the nature of the visit.  The mothers are the easiest to read.  When a mother comes in, I start looking at her eyes.  If the eyes are snapping, I know the conversation will be tense. And then I brace myself and let her start talking.

When I was new to administration, I dreaded these conversations.  I did not want the parents raising their voices and yelling at me.  I didn’t have any skills to deal with these conversations.  Most of the time I didn’t even know what to say to them.  I always just hoped for the best not really knowing what the outcome would be.  I knew this is one area upon which I needed to improve.

At the suggestion of a college professor, I read a book called Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler.  I am not one to say that something has completely changed my life, but this book comes close. After reading Crucial Conversations, I was able to start having more productive conversations with parents.  I am able to talk to parents when they are angry and their feelings are hurt and guide them towards a solution.  One critical game-changer I have learned to say to an angry parent is, “What would you like to see as the outcome to this situation?”  And I listen.  And listen some more.  I take notes while the parent is talking and I sit squarely in front of them while I am listening and taking notes.  At the end of the conversation, we arrive at a solution.  I make every effort to work towards the solution the parent would like to see as long as it is fair and reasonable.  Even if that means I have to give a little…or a lot.

Over the course of the year, I have found that I no longer dread these conversations or get flustered when I have to invite an angry parent into my office and shut the door.  I have a new set of skills that I can use as I navigate through these sticky situations.  I always keep one thought in my mind and that thought is this: try to win the trust of the parent and let them know that you care about their child and you are fair.  Do not let that parent leave angry.  That is not a win for the school.  I am all about getting the parents on the side of the district.  Having crucial conversations is just part of my daily job and if I can have these conversations and win a parent over, then it’s a conversation worth having, no matter how difficult.