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How To Deal With Difficult Parents
Date sent: Mon, 09 Aug 1999 11:58:52 -0400
From: Joan Battey (from Arthur Hu's Ed Reform Index)

TO ALL: The following, from a 1996 website download, regards insider guidelines for handling difficult people--difficult as in those who legitimately complain about school matters, is what they mean!

However, as time has gone on, the same tactics are very discernible in many dealings with many bureaucratic encounters, and often of late in dealings with politicians.

Excerpts below are from two sections posted on a website from 1996 called SchoolHouse talk. The download doesn't contain the url, so I can't give it to you here -- however the download also listed a lengthy table of contents, and was definitely from "our" point of view and the whole download contained many excellent quotes from recognized names among those fighting the outrages in education.

The broadly-applicable tactics for "Dealing With Difficult People" came from two quoted sources: The Schoolhouse Administrator, Oct. 1993 and EDCAL, Vol. 25, #33, April 22, 1996, from the ASsoc. of California School Administrators.

See how pertinent the following tips still are!

Don't be stampeded into an immediate response.

Don't take more time and effort to respond to a request than any staff person or board member can give to everyone in the community if others make the same request. [How about that idea???!!]

Don't provide copious amounts of materials and detailed explanations to every question or request.

Don't try to prove that textbooks, curricular materials or teaching
methods are the best.

Don't expect teachers to deal with intense criticism alone or without the option of release time. [And, how about THAT? Defend all teachers, regardless? Give them the idea that criticism of teaching or materials is justification for paid time off??]

Don't deny accusations without explanation and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the concern. [Does this mean that you say you understand the complaint and sympathize with the concern and any excuse off the top of your head should take care of the complaint?]

Don't be defensive, cynical, sarcastic, or impolite, or try to handle
everything yourself. [This one is either routinely ignored, or else they focus on the last part and pass the buck, maybe??]

Don't hesitate to get an opinion of legal counsel before responding. [This one is a gem -- "can't say anything until we consult with our lawyer, and we should be able to get back to you in a couple of weeks"-- or a couple of months or never?? And if we just lay low maybe we can wait you out and you'll get discouraged and go away?]

Don't forget that the board of education needs to be kept informed of unusual, large-volume requests for materials. [That is a dandy, isn't it? Could well indicate there is more than one "difficult people" out there and this could spell big trouble; start the damage control immediately?]

Don't try to foresee the right response or answer to every situation. [All you need know how to do is manage, and fend off. Details of your job aren't important, so don't feel you have to be on top of things?]

From the Dealing With Difficult People quotes:

The asst. director of communications and membership of ACSA said that the "94% of the people surveyed in the 1995 annual Calif. Education Survey said they were concerned about education. "Most of those people share the misperception that public education is failing." [If 94% had said public education was a great success, that would have been different -- they would have been right??!!]

He continued: "Everybody thinks they are an expert on schools and education because they went to school. When administrators talk with people, they often speak to those who think they already know the answers."


Identify the personality type [of the difficult complainers]. "Is the
person a hostile-aggressive, a complainer, silent and unresponsive, super agreeable, a negativist, a know-it-all expert or indecisive." [Forget what the complainer knows and does -- go right to the "be like" part of the 21st century education and straighten that part out?]

Getting on equal terms: "The types of questions that can trap
you...include questions that are hostile, speculative, hypothetical, over specific, leading, loaded, based on values, multifaceted, yes or no, or not really questions at all." [This one should get the Bureaucratic Oscar Award for Best Performance in Covering all Bases and Ruling out Any Validity of Opposition. What other kind of question could there possibly be? I know -- the one acceptable question: "Please tell me what a rotten person I am for doubting your wisdom, oh great expert; and tell me how I can make it up to you for wasting your precious time."]

Do's and Don'ts (partial listing): Use Negotiation Jujitsu; ask what
they would do in your position to be fair to all concerned. [Let's
remember this great definition: Negotiation Jujitsu is a marvelous term, and they thought of it themselves!]

Work the crowd to avoid letting one person dominate. [And to be sure in a "crowd" you know where to call on the plants to "work" into the discussions?]

Make them write their complaints down. [This takes time, and it also enables them to filter out the questions they don't want -- watch them shuffle the papers in a hurry and zero in on the questions they want to cover..]

This last part of the Dealing With Difficult People advice from the
California School Administrators is right out of the
liberal-left-bureaucra-control freak playbook. Multiple applications are possible! :

"Coping With Questions: Five Basic Responses:

"Respond only:...Flat answers prompt more questions, and 'yes' and 'no' answers mean that you are a victim of their questions, playing on their field."

"Respond and insert: Answer and elaborate with information not directly called for...this will establish you as the expert." [This is marvelous. Good for time wasting. Good for diverting from the issue. And GREAT for boosting the self-esteem of the self-defined expert!]

"Insert and respond: Preface your answer with reflections or information. Set the stage. This is a great way to break bad news." [reflections are great for trying to make them think you are a great guy or gal, human just like the difficult people who can't see your sterling qualities. Then, when time has been eaten up, you can get right to the bad news -- like "thank you all for coming...we have to run catch a plane --"]

"Insert only: If you're not going to answer the question, then you'd
better make the content of your alternative good." [Does this mean this is the stonewall technique, and you put the ball back in the difficult person's court and move on to another topic?]

"Ignore: Go on as if the question was never asked." [This seems to be the most popular fad and the most effect and least energy-consuming for the expert to deal with]

What treasures we have had, all of us, all these years while they have been auctioning off America piece by piece. It's indicative of what can be done with the public treasury and the media in your hands.

Joan B.


The Delphi Technique: What Is It?

How To Disrupt The Delphi Technique, tips on how to protect yourself from those who would use the "Delphi Technique."

How To Deal With Difficult Parents describes how some administrators are trained to deal with questioning, opposing and dissenting individuals.

Dealing With Difficult People, the information referenced in "How To Deal With Difficult Parents" from the Association of California School Administrators, EDCAL - Volume 25, - April 22, 1996

Unmasking The Crime Against Parents: In many ways, the experiences described in this article about Plano, Texas parallel those encountered by parents and community members in Reading, Massachusetts. Reading school administration "mantra" says one thing but their actions reveal a different intent.

A Reference Guide For Recognizing Political / Social Control Tactics - Useful for recognizing the tactics of some school officials and school administrators.

Are You Being Delphied? - The goal of the Delphi technique is to lead a targeted group of people to a predetermined outcome, while giving the illusion of taking public input and under the pretext of being accountable to the public.