How To Resolve a Breakdown in Communication with Parents

It’s not often that total lack of communication with a parent is a good thing, but a nasty disagreement with one can sure make you wish for that alternative!

When tempers flare and you start off on the wrong foot, the knee-jerk response can vary, depending on the situation and the people involved:

1) Get defensive and strike back

2) Craft passive-aggressive emails

3) Hide under your desk and hope it all goes away

As you may have gathered, none of these is the optimal response to a school-parent communications breakdown. When your established communication plan fails to get the issue resolved, here are some strategies to try instead:

1. Try to put yourself in the parent’s shoes. You are looking at the situation from very different perspectives.

2. Meet face-to-face. As great as electronic communications tools are, they can be misinterpreted even in the best of circumstances. When emotions are running high, it’s best to set them aside and plan an in-person meeting. “Plan” is an important part of this, especially when folks are already upset; you don’t want to add surprise to the mix.

3. State the facts in a neutral way. Step back and try to look at the situation as an outside observer would. If you find you can’t do it, recruit a friend to help you, or keep trying until you can. Once you’re able to explain the situation in an emotionally detached way, you’re ready to talk to the parent. “Thanks for coming in, Mrs. Smith. As I understand it, here’s what’s going on…”

4. Let the parent talk. The angry parent will undoubtedly have his or her own version of events to share. Assuming the parent is not hysterical or inappropriate, let him or her speak as long as necessary, without interruption. Sometimes a bit of venting is all that’s needed.

5. Look for common ground. After the parent has said his or her piece, look for points on which you agree. “It sounds like we’re both concerned about…” “I agree that…” “We clearly both feel that…” You ideally want to shift the conversation to a place where you are both on the same side of at least a few issues.

6. Offer (and ask for) possible resolutions. You can talk all day, but you’re ultimately looking for a solution to the conflict that brought you both together in the first place. If either side needs more information before proceeding on a proposed solution, pick a new date to get together and speak again.

7. End on a positive note. If possible, try to find something positive (and specific) to end your meeting on: “Thanks again for coming in, Mrs. Smith. We just love having Amanda and her infectious giggle in class here at Anyschool Elementary, and we always appreciate getting your input.”


What tips do you have? Would you consider sharing them in the comments below?