A SIX-STEP PLAN
A complaining parent can throw us for a loop. Maybe that’s because we feel vulnerable and are never quite ready to handle an upset parent. As a result, we aren’t quite sure what we can do—or what we should do. After all, we may not have a “ready answer” to resolve the complaint. Too, we may not feel the parent is accurate or fair in his or her assessment. Yet if we don’t want to be in a lose-lose situation with a complaining parent, we must be prepared with professional and acceptable responses and actions. If we’re not, the complaint won’t be resolved and may even escalate. In truth, molehills can become mountains because we didn’t have a professional action to employ immediately to defuse the complaining parent. Here is a professional six-step stance we can use that may prove helpful.
IMMEDIATELY USE THE WORD
CONCERN RATHER THAN
THE WORD COMPLAINT.
Instantly thank the parent for bringing his or her concern to your attention. You may be surprised by a complaint, but don’t even consider allowing yourself to be momentarily irritated, perplexed, or defensive. Please note: Never use the word complaint—even if the parent does. Instead, introduce the word concern immediately. Then add two sentences: “Your concern is my concern,” and “I’m glad you told me your concern so that I can try to fix it—and prevent it from happening again.”
Apologize for both the problem and for causing parents concern. However, never make an apology your first action. Apologizing should be the second step—and for good reason. It will always have more power and impact if it comes after you thank parents—and after you have revealed that you’re glad they brought the concern to you. Remember, apologizing first is a patronizing and defensive move and will not defuse parents.
Take any steps necessary to calm parents and help them relax. This is easily done by promising parents that you will listen and deal with the concern immediately. If you can take action without involving others, do so promptly. Remember, parents may feel you are putting them off if you make them wait. If it is necessary to involve someone else, such as the principal, say so. Tell parents exactly what you will do and when you will do it. Then do it. If you want parents to be able to calm down, they must know you are going to take action. This means they must have a promise from you that you will act—and they must believe you will hold yourself to your promise. However, if parents feel that they must hold you to your promise themselves, they will not relax until a higher authority enters the picture and takes control.
Collect additional information, if necessary. During this step, say to parents, “So I can act quickly on your concern, would you please give me some information?” You may also begin the closure process at this point by asking parents what they need to feel satisfied. You might say, “If we do A, B, or C, would this action resolve your concern?” Be sure never to say, “I’ll need some information first or I can’t help you.” Such words will only bring out the worst in parents because you have inadvertently laid the responsibility for resolving the complaint back on them rather than resolving it yourself. After asking for information, you may repeat your question to the parents about what they need to feel satisfied. Or you may ask again, “If we do A, B, and C, would this action resolve your concern?”
You can find the final two steps of the six-step plan in Your Personal Mentoring & Planning Guide for Working with Parents.