I hope that the title doesn't sound disrespectful because the relationships that I have had with my families have always been sincere. I can honestly say that I have never been friendly just because it was my job to do so. I always sought to get to know our families quickly, so that we could establish trust, which is critical for the journey ahead.
When you picture this as you read, it's important to remember that I will be sitting next to the parent in the office and not behind a desk.
Picture it. An angry mother, storming down the corridor towards you. Your receptionist has tipped you off on the phone just to let you know that she has arrived and she's not happy. You know that this is not personal, but that's not always how it feels.
You open the office door, offer a seat and ask how you can help. The response is not good, and yes, it's pretty much aimed at you. The issue that she has, has been fuelled. Maybe some 'advice' on social media or a friend who made clear that any good mother would confront. Her heart is on her sleeve.
'There are a few things to note that could be going on in the background. Their own school experience may well have been one where the institution was always supposedly right. It may even have even been at this very school. They would also expect you to 'stick up for the school' or to not concede. There really are so many likely unfortunate possible preconceptions.
You listen as she states her concern. As you listen, you see the that this comes from a place of worry and although she maybe upset, that does not mean that anyone has done anything intentionally wrong.
It's then your turn to speak.
Your first comment is that you understand.
Your second comment is that you agree with her.
Your third comment is that if you didn't get things quite right, then you will hold your hand up.
'Humility is a powerful attribute in leadership. The ability to be someone who will admit it if it wasn't good enough. Bear in mind, that there are also times when you can't take this approach and you may have to disagree. In this case, you must have accuracy first.'
You can see the dynamics shift. This is no longer a confrontation, it can now be a partnership. She really didn't expect this as she played this out in her mind overnight. You are now in a position to talk and to find common ground and to find the way forward, together.
The WIN / WIN
Some of the most rewarding outcomes came from adverse situations. When I needed to use this approach it served me well. I could see the parent out of the door on good terms, often with some assurances of what I could do to help further. If felt that I had been treated fairly then I would be likely to do more rather than to resentfully pacify.
The relationship is in tact. Confrontation or the failure to achieve a calm and fair outcome would only lead to bigger problems. Formal complaints can be damaging and time consuming. The first objective will always be to take the heat out of the situation.
Your personal reputation may well be forged as the result of moments like this. Parents know if you are fair and approachable and they also hear when you work together for a positive outcome. Alternatively, they will hear about when you have to stand your ground because you cannot always agree and you cannot always say 'yes'. If you can seek to get the foundations of the relationship right at the beginning, families will tend to maintain that you are a fair person, that your job is not always easy and that what you seek to do is to make the right call for the child and school community.