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By: Mike Moore

Practical strategies to cope with difficult people
14 STEPS TO TEACHER ASSERTIVENESS How to cope with difficult parents, principals and staff members By Mike Moore

* Teaching has become a highly stressful and unhappy profession for many. I have heard teachers say repeatedly that teaching isnít fun any more. Teacher stress can result from a number of stimuli. ranging from dwindling resources, financial cutbacks, ever increasing expectations, lack of appreciation and praise, and diminished parental support to demanding and toxic parents, undisciplined and rude students and highly critical, non-supportive staff members.

* Toxic parents can do a lot of serious damage to the confidence and well being of teachers. With all the duties and responsibilities teachers have on their plates what they donít need is the added stress and pressure exerted by toxic parents, principals and fellow professionals.

* Today we have parents walking around armed with the latest educational insight picked up from watching Dateline or 20/20 or reading the latest education related article from Ladies Home Journal. With their new found knowledge they come to you loaded for bear. When this happens you should have no trouble at all if you are well read in educational philosophy, pedagogy and methodology. Keeping up with the research in education is a must for teachers. If you visit your doctor with a health concern you expect him/her to be knowledgeable enough to answer it well and thoroughly. To be credible, doctors must keep up with what is going on in medicine. The same applies to teachers. Read, listen to tapes, study journals etc. When a concerned or difficult parent comes to you with a question dazzle them with your knowledge and expertise. Donít hesitate to quote your sources and offer to provide them with articles on the issue of concern.


Remember that you canít change toxic parents, principals or fellow staff members, but you can learn to cope with them and neutralize their impact on your life. Here are some effective strategies to try.

1. Always stand at eye level with the person you are confronting. Never have them standing over you, looking down.

2. Respect the toxic person and always expect respect in return. Settle for nothing less.

3. Remain calm. A calm cool response to an angry verbal barrage can neutralize a toxic experience.

4. Listen attentively.

5. Donít argue or interrupt, just listen.

6. Donít accuse or judge, just state how you feel about the situation..

7. If the toxic person tries to verbally bully you, just say, ď Iím sorry but I donít allow people to treat me this way. Perhaps we can continue this when you have calmed down.Ē Then slowly and calmly walk away.

8. When someone is being toxic to you here is a powerful response and one that is easy to use because you donít have to say a word. In the midst of a toxic attack just ........ PAUSE....LOOK AT THE PERSON, WITHOUT EMOTION......TURN AND WALK AWAY. It works!

9. While anger is sometimes a valid response it has to be used as a last resort. Anger doesnít usually accomplish anything with a difficult parent and can actually cause further alienation.

10. Put your qualifications on display. Whether people like to admit it or not they are impressed by paper qualifications. When you enter a doctorís office you see behind his/her desk all the degrees, diplomas and additional courses taken in various medical fields etc. When you see this you begin having more confidence in the expertise of the doctor. I think teachers should do the same. Behind your desk have copies of your degrees, teacherís certificates, professional courses taken etc. mounted on the wall for all to see.

11. When Interviewing a difficult parent never sit behind your desk.. Move your chair out from behind the desk and place it close to and in front of the parent. This sends a strong assertive message to the one being interviewed. It says, ď I am comfortable and confident in this situation. Thatís just the message your want to send.

12. Never underestimate the power of a stern, disapproving look. It certainly saves you words and allows you to assert yourself with minimum risk. If someone is doing or saying something that puts you down or tries to overpower you, give them a look of disapproval which says loudly and clearly, ďBACK OFFĒ. 13. Selective silence is one of the most effective ways of dealing with difficult people. It is easy to use, and very low threat. When people are being difficult, they are often seeking attention and power. When you respond verbally to their toxic attack you are giving them attention and power they desire. When you use selective silence you deny them both attention and power. You are basically ignoring them and no one likes to be ignored.

14. When you are being harassed by a fellow staff member you must, in the interest of professional ethics, have the courage to confront. You can do this verbally face to face, or in writing. Stay calm and professional. You can say something like this. ď It has come to my attention that you have some concern about my teaching. Is this true?Ē Listen calmly and carefully to their response. Follow up with ď Perhaps you could put your concerns in writing. I will study them and get back to you with my written response.ĒGreat harm is done to a teacherís reputation and well-being by a fellow teacher acting unprofessionally. Challenge them.

REMEMBER.... You donít exist to be anyoneís doormat.

This tips sheet is but a brief excerpt from my one hour audio program Coping with Toxic Parents.which also includes material on how to deal with difficult principals and fellow staff members.

About the Author

Mike Moore is an international voice on the role of appreciation, praise and humor in performance motivation and human potential. He travels throughout North America giving speeches and seminars on self-actualization. His writing and cartoons have apppeared in newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the U.S.A. He works out of Brantford ON Canada

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