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Resources To Prevent & Deal With Workplace Conflict With Customers and Colleagues
Defusing Hostile and Volatile Situations For Educators - Book Chapter I - Introduction - A House Divided 
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The following is the first chapter from our book entitled Defusing 
Hostile/Volatile Situations for Educational Personnel. You can order 
using the form at order.htm.

1996 Copyright, Robert Bacal 

Defusing Hostile and Volatile Situations For Educators - Book Chapter I - Introduction - A House Divided

If you work in the educational system, and been on the receiving end
of verbal abuse, blaming, and manipulation, you aren't alone.Before we
get into the meat of the issue, let's take a look at some comments from
teachers and school administrators regarding parents and members of
the public.

"Her mother came to school...,walked into the front office and without
asking to see me walked right into my office. She put her finger in my
face and started screaming obscenities (sic) at me."

"[The student] and his mother came marching into our school with the
attitude that we are all bad and her son is the "poor injured
party"....After telling us all on the team and our principal that we
are incompetent as teachers and that her son is not learning

"...I've had conferences with parents who came drunk, parent aides
correct me in front of the class (when they are in fact incorrect),
favor their own children, make angry, vulgar comments to students who
didn't understand "quick enough" and more."

"As both a parent and a teacher, I find that teachers complain about
parents not coming to school, but at the same time make it very
difficult to have any kind of meaningful dialogue...discussions are
one sided, with parents clearly put in the role of passive students.".

"I would like to be respected by parents. Often, parents have arrived
with no appointments and expected me to be available. The often take
the child's word regarding a classroom incident without waiting to
hear my perspective on the situation."

"I don't consider you, the parent, my employer...."You have No direct
power over me in the classroom. However, I always ask parents for
input. Sometimes I take their suggestions, sometimes I don't, since I
clearly have insight and knowledge of situations and circumstances the
parent couldn't begin to know."

"Boy do I wish parents would keep appointments with me. I would
estimate that 75% of parents who request appointments with me fail to
show up, or show up at a time other than requested, as if I were
sitting in an office all day and could easily put aside my work."

Well, every disagreement or situation has two sides. Let's look at
what parents are saying.

"One only has to look at the many corrosive attacks on
see how may educators look upon parents as their enemy, fit scapegoats
for all the frustrations involved in teaching. As an actively involved
parent and responsible person who's put in approximately 50 hours a
week volunteering at local schools, I wonder how
teachers can continue to be so defensively insulting on a daily basis
and still expect parents to be supportive of them?"

"We walk in with our most precious projects, thereby opening ourselves
up to the very real possibility of all our hard work being criticized
as bad parenting (ie. over©protective, lax, no home discipline,
"abdicating of responsibility", etc). Teachers,who are constantly
evaluating students' behaviour, cannot seem to stop evaluating us."

"I have found school districts are only responsive when a well
documented paper trail is being created © one that could be used in a
court of law. I'm not saying every parent should or could sue, I'm
saying that this is a more concrete way of getting a serious

"Some of us have been fortunate enough to have been touched by the
rare teacher who cared enough to do a good job...We know that school
"counselors" are, more often than not, no more than dead weights
holding a desk chair in place. We know how many principals and
vice©principals wandered the halls of our schools with nothing useful
to do, but with plenty of time to harass anyone who stands out as
unusual or non©conforming."

"Oh come on... it may be stressful at times but many jobs are.Unless
you teach in a prison..., teaching isn't any more stressful than that
of an electrician working on power lines...Get off your pedestal!"

"Too often the public school system employees...get this backwards,
and behave in either an arrogant or condescending manner towards
parents and members of the public. Dog©gonit © you public school
teachers work for me, and the rest of us who pay you."

I don't know about you but I find some of the comments in both the
lists are demeaning. Others are simple statements about past
occurrences. But regardless of the truth of any of the comments,it
certainly appears that parents/members of the public and educational
personnel are no "synchronized" to create the best educational results

There are many reasons for this © reasons that we will leave for the
researchers and academics to discuss.  Our focus in this book is to
discuss ways that educational staff can work with parents and members
of the public in a cooperative professional manner,DESPITE the fact
that insults and verbal abuse are directed at them. In fact, the
purpose of this book is to help educators stop abusive behaviour that
is directed at them, and "move" the parent or member of the public to
address the problem at the root of the discussion.  Using a number of
defusing techniques, which we will describe, educators can create a
situation where abusive and difficult behaviour becomes "unfun", and
cooperation is more likely.

Why Is Defusing So Important?

The Students

First and foremost, we know that the best arrangement for children
attending schools is that the school and the parents work together to
benefit the child. When a teacher and a parent are constantly engaged
in confrontational arguments, the child doesn't

The Parents

I am sure that sometimes it appears that some parents are simply out
to crucify a teacher or school board, and have little interest in the
welfare of their child. Sometimes it appears that what drives people
to be abusive and nasty is some hidden agenda.I have no doubt that
that happens. But, as you have seen above,other parents feel they are
not being treated with respect by educational staff, that they aren't
being listened to, and their needs are not being taken into account. 
Learning how to communicate with angry parents/members of the public
allows us to prove to parents that we are indeed making an effort,
that we ARE listening, and we DO care about their concerns.  The truth
is that most people can be reasonable if they are treated with respect
and skill, and what we want to do is to help parents actin reasonable,
responsible ways.


In my seminars, I tell people that learning how to defuse hostile
situations is a "good" thing...that treating hostile people with
respect is the "right" thing. I spend about 45 seconds discussing what
is right.  What I spend more time on is the benefits that will accrue
when people learn defusing skills, and use them.

First, dealing with an abusive hostile person is very timeªconsuming.
I know of no teachers or administrators who have scads of free time to
spend on a person who is yelling, not listening,and seemingly only
interested in insulting others and blaming them. Surprisingly, the use
of defusing techniques can save you time, since they have a tendency
to shorten interactions between you and the hostile individual. 

Second, dealing with abusive hostile people is stress producing.None
of us need more stress.  When we "face©off" with an angry,hostile
person, our adrenaline starts pumping, and we may remain pumped up for
hours after the event. One of the reasons this occurs is that we don't
know what to do. By learning how to handle these situations, we reduce
the stress related to deciding how to handle the situation. We are
also better able to depersonalize the situation, so we can remain calm
and in control.

Third, there is incredible satisfaction associated with successfully
defusing a volatile situation. It feels really good to work with an
abusive person, calm them down, and solve the problem, since it
highlights your professional expertise and talent. It is, by far, more
satisfying than having a knock down,drag out argument that is never

School Divisions

While school divisions/boards don't usually operate in a "market
system", schools and board develop reputations in the community.Some
organizations develop a reputation for not listening, and being
unresponsive, while others develop a more positive reputation based on
responsiveness and respect. There is a very practical implication
here. Organizations that have a "poor"reputation are more likely to
have to deal with more abusive people, since the poor reputation
primes the abuse pump. People who see your organization as responsive
are more likely to approach you with respect. 

To be realistic, reputations (of teachers, schools, divisions)aren't
always based on reality. What we do know is that you are more likely
to be positively perceived if you conduct yourself well, and learn how
to defuse difficult situations.

Defusing © A Neglected Skill Set

We need to be very clear about something. We don't think
teachers/educational personnel are any better or worse than others
when it comes to defusing hostility in others. But we will say that in
general, most people just aren't very good at it. 

All of us know how to use language to be mean, insulting and
demeaning. The nature of language learning, and the human condition is
that these techniques of communication and influence over the
environment are learned by everyone during early childhood. Oddly
enough, we really don't have much of an opportunity to learn how to
defuse people. We aren't usually taught how to do it, although some
school programs are attempting to teach children more cooperative
skills. And teacher training programs, or other university programs
simply don't spend much time on this, if at all. In short, the fact
that you don't know all the defusing choices you can make is normal,
since it is likely that you were never taught them.

Why Is The Responsibility Mine?

There is a question that comes up fairly often when I do face©toªface
defusing seminars. It goes like this:

"Why should I have to put up with abuse, and insulting comments from
anyone? Why is it MY responsibility to DEFUSE people who won't take
responsibility for their actions?

It's a good question. It isn't really fair, is it?  My response is
that you can CHOOSE to defuse or CHOOSE to throw gasoline on the fire.
I suggest that people make their own decision based on their values,
and what they would like to happen. If you want to spend endless time
defending yourself, to the nasty person, to your "boss", and the
community, then don't use defusing tactics.If you want to shorten the
time you have to spend on these situation, then defusing is the way to

If you want to walk away from a hostile interaction feeling proud
about the way you conducted yourself, then defusing is a good
approach. If you want to "even the score", then feel free to whale
away, but be aware that there are consequences to those actions.

Finally, keep in mind that to change a relationship from adversarial
to cooperative requires that SOMEONE switch to cooperative mode. If
neither party is willing to do that, we need to assume that both
parties want to fight, want to argue and wan t to spend time doing so. 
Quite honestly, I wish that more parents and members of the public
would learn the communication skills to deal with the educational
system in a constructive, positive way.But the reality is that isn't
going to happen. And since they aren't likely to learn these skills,
that leaves...well...that leaves you. 

It isn't fair, but then life isn't fair. The only thing we have
control over is our own behaviour, and we can use our behaviour to
make things better, or we can choose to complain about the unfairness,
and wait for other people to learn how to handle difficult situations
with dignity. Mind you, if we choose to wait, it will be a very long
wait, indeed.




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