Classy Communication: How to Have Difficult Conversations with Parents
No one, I repeat no one enjoys conflict. There isn’t one director or teacher out there that jumps out of bed in the morning and thinks “I hope I get to have an uncomfortable conversation today!” The industry we are in, the trust industry (aka early education) unfortunately opens us up to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations sometimes.
When I was starting out as a director, I remember one parent that seemed to love uncomfortable conversations. No matter what day it was she sought be out to complain, offer “feedback”, share with me a way to do something better, make suggestions for the lunch menu, you name it, she had a conversation with me about it. I dreaded speaking with her each day because many of the conversations would drag on way too long and were unproductive. One day her son was scratched by another child in the classroom. The scratch was tiny…I mean tiny, like you almost needed a magnifying class to see it. We called to let her know about the tiny scratch on his arm, and my assistant director had her sign the incident report when she picked up that day. Even though mom seemed fine about this scratch, I knew she would be waiting on me the next day to have another one of our conversations.
The following day was Friday. It was jeans day- which was rare at the school I worked at. I had my grande Starbucks on my desk and it was going to be an awesome day. Then, I saw this mom walking across the parking lot. Immediately I knew that the next hour of my day would be spent having a talk with her. So, I did what any rational, professional adult does…...I ran and hid in our supply closet. This wasn’t even a large supply closet, we’re talking double doors and shelves. Had one teacher opened it, I would have been BUSTED!
Now I look back at this day and laugh. I no longer hide in supply closets. One of the things that helped me gain confidence when speaking with parents is a system I designed called the CLASS technique for parent communication. Here is a simple breakdown of how to use the CLASS technique:
Control- control your response, don’t add emotions to the situation, ask no threatening questions, be objective and act professionally even if the parent isn’t
Listen- actively listen, let them talk- don’t let them scream, curse or bully you but let them speak, ask clarifying questions when needed, take notes, don’t plan your arguments as they are speaking
Acknowledge- acknowledge the issues they are sharing with you, let them know you’ve listened and you understand, get more details on any sweeping statements they’ve made
Solutions- offer possible solutions, get and give information, be helpful, never say “I don’t know”, let them know you will investigate this issue and tell them a time they can expect a follow-up from you. Remember, never offer them a solution that is against your policies and procedures- while this may seem like an easy way out sometimes, it will almost always come back to haunt you!
Summarize- repeat the agreed upon follow-up plan, wish them well and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention
For a more in-depth dive on the CLASS technique, you can email me to set up a LIVE training webinar for your entire team on this topic- [email protected].
The other tool that really helped be better understand my own communication style- which isn’t always the greatest was using the communication style quiz that you can access HERE. I use this with my team at the beginning of each school year, it not only helps teachers and directors recognize what their style is, and the positive and negatives surrounding that style, but it helps them recognize how parents and coworkers may best communicate. I hope these tools are helpful for you, so you don’t have to find a hiding place at your school!