How Do You Handle a Phone Call from an Angry Parent?
It may be one of the worst parts of the job and seems to happen at 3:05 on a Friday afternoon. Those calls are tough to manage and tough to not take personally. Take a deep breath and check out our colleagues’ great tips for turning that call around into a productive problem-solving relationship. You will see that listening is a common theme. 😉
Listen and Be Honest
As long as they’re not being verbally abusive (in which case I tell them we can talk once they’re calmer and then hang up), the first thing to do is listen. Don’t duck their calls, don’t get defensive, don’t try and rebut each point as it arises, just listen. When people are upset, they need to feel heard before they can get to a point where they can articulate what they want to see happen. Reflect what you hear them saying to make sure you’re getting it right. Only move on to brainstorming and problem-solving once you fully understand. And whatever you do, be honest. They may not like everything you have to say but will respect you for being straight with them.
-Laurie Mendoza, School Counseling Files
When I receive a phone call from an angry parent, I find that simply listening is the most helpful tactic. I proactively remind myself to not take it personally because it truly isn’t about me. Oftentimes, parents feel like they haven’t been heard or have been previously met with opposition, so they are naturally feeling angry or frustrated.
After they have said everything they need to say, I reflect back what they are feeling and redirect the conversation to problem-solving. What can we do together to solve this problem? I find that this problem-solving perspective often serves to de-escalate the situation. As we focus on how we can improve the situation, parents become more open to hearing data and facts as they realize that we have the same goal: student success.
-Keri from Counselor Keri
Be on Their Team
Parents are often angry because they want what’s best for their child and don’t think that is happening. When speaking with an angry parent, I use my best reflective listening skills and check often for understanding. I make sure to always say something like “We are committed to working hard for your child. It sounds like adjustments need to be made. Let’s make a plan.” This allows the parents to hear in one sentence that 1-I care about what happens, 2- I acknowledge that there is room for change, and 3-I am their partner in making a plan for their child.
I find that one side is rarely all in the wrong or all in the right. Even if the only adjustment that we can make is to increase communication, we are still changing our behavior to better meet the needs of the family. You can read all of my parent communication posts over on the blog, angry phone calls always go better when the parent already knows you and your amazing work with kids. Trust goes a long way!
– Rebecca from Counselor Up
Give Time to Cool Down
When I receive a phone call from an angry parent, the first thing I do is let them talk and get it all out. I let them tell me everything that happened from their point of view so they feel heard and validated. I listen closely until they have explained all that they need to explain. Then I ask questions and check for understanding to let them know that I care and that I am here to help them.
Depending on the situation, I tell the parent that I am going to investigate further and will call them back later in the day. This provides a little bit of cool-down time for the parent. It also gives me time to gather additional information and come up with solutions. Once I have gathered all necessary details about the issue, I call the parent back and try to work with them to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy and solves the problem. Cool down time for parents and the ability to have a full picture of what happened is key for me!
– Ashley from Mrs. Bell The Crafty Counselor
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