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No, avoiding confrontation is not the answer. Here’s how you can build long-lasting, successful relationships with parents. As you read that title, your shoulders may sink down a little. Maybe you just let out an audible sigh thinking about a challenging conversation with a parent you had recently

Oct 03, 2018

No, avoiding confrontation is not the answer. Here’s how you can build long-lasting, successful relationships with parents.


As you read that title, your shoulders may sink down a little. Maybe you just let out an audible sigh thinking about a challenging conversation with a parent you had recently (or might soon have). Perhaps you are pursing your lips thinking about how you might avoid any confrontation at all.

However, having difficult conversations is necessary in order to build long-lasting, trusting, and successful relationships with parents. As educators, we must engage with our students’ parents in order to do right by them — even when things might be tough. Educators who can effectively and successfully deal with conflict are on their way to creating classrooms where dreams are not only imagined but come to fruition.

What are the primary components of a difficult conversation?

  • Difficult conversations include conflicting viewpoints. Opinions differ and oppose. Therefore, it’s vital to establish shared meaning. (More on that soon.)

  • The stakes are high in a difficult conversation. What’s being discussed or shared is important and there is a lot to gain or lose from the conversation.

  • Both parties have strong emotions about the topic at hand. There is passion around the conversation, and the feelings are real.


Make it safe.

It’s easy to become defensive when engaging in a difficult conversation. Before even broaching the topic, establish a safe environment where both you and the parent can feel open to discuss the issue without judgment. Avoid speaking in front of an audience. However, if a witness is necessary, consider asking an administrator or another unbiased party to sit in on the discussion. By creating a safe place for the conversation to take place, the parent will be more likely to share.

Establish shared meaning.

The foundation for any strong relationship is shared meaning. It’s no different when engaging in a difficult conversation if you want to come out of it with a positive outcome. Share a common vision for the student with the parent. Make sure you talk about that shared vision with the parent at the start of the conversation. This ensures you’re both aligned and have a common goal, which is doing what’s best for the student.

Seek to understand before being understood.

Unless you try to understand where the other person is coming from, you’ll never be able to move forward in a difficult conversation. Both you and the parent may have seen the same thing, but you may form conflicting opinions based on your previous experiences. You may be convinced that you know all of the facts and that what happened is obvious, but there may be more below the surface. Ask the parent’s opinion and be open to (really) listening.

Identify next steps.

Before leaving a difficult conversation, it’s important to figure out what happens next and who’s in charge of what. Hopefully, you’ve left the parent with a positive outcome, but go ahead and schedule a follow-up conversation to discuss progress. This shows the parent that you’re in this for the long run and open to making changes for the student moving forward.

By engaging in these difficult conversations, you are establishing a safer and more empathetic classroom for you, your students, and their parents.

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