As I emphasized in my previous blog post, good communication fosters confidence, trust, and positive relationships with parents. Poor communication does the opposite. The purpose of this second post is to provide seven specific strategies for developing high-touch communication.

Seven High-Touch Communication Strategies

  1. Initiate positive communication.

People love to be cared for, celebrated, and appreciated. Make a practice of calling parents if their child has been injured to see how the child is doing. Send a letter of congratulations on school letterhead to the student and copy the parents celebrating the student’s academic, athletic, or artistic achievement or good deed. Send a handwritten note or card to a student or parent facing illness or to thank them for their assistance, act of kindness, engagement, etc. In short, take time to personally communicate a word of concern, congratulation, or celebration.

  1. Don’t wag it!

The biggest source of tension arises from the wagging tongue—engaging in gossip. I have found school staff quick to condemn gossip among parents while engaging in gossip about gossiping parents—and I have been guilty of the same. Gossip at any level is corrosive to a school’s culture and relationships, and it is a sin thoroughly and consistently condemned in the Bible. Proverbs reminds us that “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)

The truth is that we have little control or influence on parent gossip, but we can and must control gossip and other forms of verbal sin among school staff—beginning with ourselves. Moreover, when we think in terms of “parents” rather than George or Georgia, we dehumanize people—they become the “other,” and it is always easier to condemn the vague “other.” Guard your tongue and insist that all school staff do the same. This is right in and of itself. It creates a positive school culture and forges a partnership between parents and the school rather than an adversarial atmosphere.

  1. Seek to understand.

We are not good listeners. Because the mind is faster than the tongue, it is easy to be thinking about what we are going to say next, usually in defense of ourselves or the school, rather than actively listening to parents to understand both their feelings and perspectives. James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” There are many benefits to being a good listener, but here are three: (1) it demonstrates love and respect for the person speaking; (2) it fosters empathy and understanding; and (3) it leads to better decisions.

  1. Take action.

It is important to take good notes, to follow up the conversation with further investigation, and then take action. When action is not taken to address their concerns, parents feel as though they have not been heard. And, once a decision has been made and action taken, circle back to the parents to let them know what has been or will be done. Do not leave the parent in the dark. Most parents will feel respected and heard if they’re kept in the loop regarding the outcome of the conversation, even if it is not what they desired.

  1. Keep the baby; find the truth.

When we are confronted by an angry, unreasonable parent, it is tempting to dismiss the concern because of the way it is being delivered. That is a mistake. We must not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Notwithstanding how inappropriately or poorly the message is being delivered, there is almost always an element of truth in what is being communicated. Find that truth, acknowledge it, and address it.

  1. Admit and apologize.

It is tempting to become defensive of the school or of ourselves when criticized or attacked. Defensiveness, however, only exasperates the problem and is almost never camouflaged. If you or someone else has made a mistake or behaved badly—admit it, apologize, seek forgiveness, and correct it. There is everything to be gained and nothing to be lost, except our pride.

  1. Get off the email treadmill; seek face-to-face communication.

Back and forth emails resulting in long email threads are exhausting, time-consuming, and detrimental to fostering good relationships and partnerships with parents when dealing with sensitive matters. Face-to-face meetings or phone calls are far more humanizing and effective. I am convinced that we rely on email in part to avoid the difficult person-to-person conversation. This is a mistake. When you receive an email from a parent expressing a serious concern about something, pick up the phone and call to acknowledge the email and request a face-to-face meeting.

I recently read an article about Oswald Chamber’s ability to form close bonds even with those who had no use for religion. The author wrote, “… the principle remains the same: at base level, we must show kindness to everyone. That by itself is right, but in showing kindness, we might also gain a hearing for our beliefs. And then those around us have a choice to accept our beliefs, to reject them, or simply to give them additional thought.” This example of Oswald Chambers seems far better than shouting and bumper stickers and mean tweets. One-on-one, face-to-face, constructive interactions take more time and energy—and, perhaps, courage—but have greater effectiveness in getting a point across.

This is not to say that it is always a mistake to send an email—it isn’t. But if you are going to use an email to address a sensitive matter, consider following these tips:

  • Pause and pray before drafting the email. Ask the Lord for empathy and wisdom before you begin to write.
  • Remember that a “soft answer turns away wrath” and “the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” Bite your tongue, turn the other cheek, and write a warm, caring email.
  • After drafting the email, let it sit in the drafts folder for several hours. Wait until you are less emotional and then read the email again—you will revise it more often than not!
  • Let someone appropriate whom you trust read your response for tone. It will surprise you how often another person will pick up on a phrase that comes off more harshly or curtly than you intended, or conveys an unintended message.
  • Less can be more. Most emails are read on mobile devices and are therefore skimmed. It is best to keep your emails short and concise.
  • Assume that the email will be shared on social media and could show up on the local news. Compose your email accordingly.

Effective, high-touch communication is essential to developing healthy partnerships with our school parents. While we cannot always control how others communicate to and with us, we can certainly work on responding in ways that effectively address the issues at hand—as well as do our part to foster positive relationships into the future.

About the Author

Dr. Barrett Mosbacker is head of school for Westminster Christian Academy (Saint Louis, MO). He is also an adjunct professor at Covenant College teaching school business management in the graduate program. Prior to his work in Christian education, Dr. Mosbacker worked for several U.S. corporations and as a management consultant to the Legal Services Corp. (Washington, D.C.). Dr. Mosbacker received his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. You can find his blog and other resources for Christian school leaders at www.barrettmosbacker.com.

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