We held a conference for a group of 52 educators yesterday and we shared with them a slew of tools that left them feeling more empowered and like the impossible job of education in a global pandemic was a little more possible. During our call we received a question from one of our participants that stumped us. “How do we respond positively to frustrated parents?” After some time for clarity we were reminded of a solution, please allow us to share a story to demonstrate.
Here is the story that you may be familiar with. A parent, we will call her Angry Mama, sends you a lengthy email sharing with you her thoughts on how hybrid learning is going. The letter details all of the shortcomings of distance learning and rants about where improvements need to be made. It concludes with thoughts on how frustrated and disappointed she is in her child’s progress.
Reading the email you begin to feel agitated, frustrated, and angry. It makes you so upset that you call your spouse to vent, but that doesn’t make you feel any better, so you try your co- worker. She has received a similar email this fall and as you read your email to her she begins to join you in the same anger, frustration and agitation. Spending some time talking about your frustrations, you end the chat feeling more tired and angry.
Let me interrupt this story to introduce you to the pain body, a concept we learned about from Eckhart Tolle.
Pain body is a ball of annoyance that lives in everyone and on occasion it likes to come out and take center stage of your day. It feeds on negativity, it just loves COVID, rainy days and the DMV , and when it is shared with someone else it doubles in strength and size (just sourdough starter, thank you Alice Anne Loftus.)
Now, imagine for a minute that Angry Mama woke up in the morning with an unwelcome case of pain body. She woke up to an overtired child, argued with her spouse and spilled her coffee all before 9:00 am. While getting her child on track for the morning she begins to think about her frustrations (growing her pain body) and decides to write a letter to her child’s teacher (sharing the pain body and doubling it.) You then open the email and get your own case of pain body, sharing it with your partner and co-worker. Sounds like it's time to make some bread with all of this sourdough!
Now you know we would never leave you here. So the obvious question to ask is what do we do about it?
When someone tries to share their pain body, you need to see it for what it is, pain that wants to be spread and passed around. Resist the temptation to pick it up and pass it along and respond with FAVE. First acknowledge, validate then empathize.
When FAVE is the response, Angry Mama is immediately calmed, and quieted because she has been heard, she no longer needs to shout her frustrations because someone finally heard them. She has been LISTENED to, she has been validated and understood.
When we acknowledge what people are saying and validate their feelings, we let them know that we hear them, that their feelings are normal that it is ok to feel that way. When we don't acknowledge and validate we help others fight the situation they are in rather than accept it. Validation does not mean that we agree or approve, but it lets them know that it is ok to feel that way. This crucial step is often missed and can make the difference in how quickly someone can move into problem solving.
So what could have been said to the Angry Mama? Maybe something like this: “Thanks for reaching out. I heard your concerns about your child and I am sure you are feeling frustrated with the way things are going. I know it is hard to navigate the uncertainty and changing expectations that are coming each day. You are not alone in your concerns and we are doing our best to meet everyone's needs.” I can already see Angry Mama’s shoulders drop and hear a sigh.