When my friend was first selling on Ebay, he got a complaint email. He typed back a letter that he assumed was pure sarcasm, something like “of course I will make everything right because I know you are frustrated, because something like this is such a big deal.” He meant it sarcastically, and had he said it, it would have come across in an almost mocking tone. The customer took it at face value and was very thankful and happy that my friend was willing to work with him to reach a solution. We both learned something about customer service, and people, that day.
When most people complain about something, they want two things: to have their feeling and needs acknowledged, and for you to attempt to meet that need. Generally, their frustration is coming from some type of unmet need on their part.
So here is the two-step, simple, solution to disarming a frustrated parent. These concepts come, in part, from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication.
One: Acknowledge Their Feelings And The Needs Connected To It
If a parent is upset that their daughter got a lower grade than expected, and you get a somewhat hostile email, here is how to acknowledge the parent’s need:
– I hear that you are frustrated (acknowledging feelings) because you want your daughter to be as successful as possible (need).
– I understand you are upset (acknowledging feelings) because your daughter didn’t get her usual high grade (need)
Here you have shown that you have heard the parent’s feelings and needs. Sometimes you may have to ask their feelings and needs may be. It is easier to fish out in face-to-face conversations, but can be done in email too. From the same example:
– Are you frustrated because you want your daughter to do as well as possible?
– Are you upset because you want what is best for your daughter?
Two: Suggest a solution that is workable for both of you
People like to know that they are a part of a solution. In some areas, you may not be able to bend much, but you can always include the parent in the conversation, and offer some solutions that are within policy, even if, objectively speaking, they may not mean much. To follow up on the example above, you could respond:
– I offer extra credit that many students take advantage of. Would you be interested in hearing about that?
– Even though it is against school policy to provide extra credit, I would be glad to work with her before the next test.
– She has a chance to get three easy note grades in the next two weeks. I averaged her grade, and with those, she will have a 92% for the quarter if she completes that work. We will also have additional assignments
Below I provide an example of a longer conversation. This is a conversation with a parent who is ticked because her daughter got a second detention from you in the same month.
– Parent: Ugh, You are singling out my daughter! (notice she doesn’t tell you her needs clearly)
– You: Are you frustrated (emotion) because you want your daughter to be treated as fairly as possible (need)?
– Parent: Yes!
– You: I can see why you want her to stay out of trouble, you want to the best for her (need). I do too, which is why we enforce the rule of no cell-phones in class.
– Parent: Well, yes, I understand that. It’s just that she has been getting in trouble a lot lately, and it’s well…umm…
– You: Frustrating (more acknowledging emotions).
– Parent: Yes!
– You: Have you tried anything at home that seems to work to get her to take a break from texting? (coming up with a workable solution together)
– Parent: Well, I find that if I remind her at the beginning of dinner, she won’t pull it out
– Teacher: How about I try to remind the class at the beginning that they need to take a cell phone break? (solution that is workable for both)
– Parent: yeah, that’s a good idea. Let me know how it works!