How to keep your meetings with professionals professional

Nicky Weisfeld 

Valuing Minds

I was at a meeting this morning and, at one point, the discussion turned to conversations the attendees had held with medical or educational professionals about their respective offspring. Some of the comments that these parents had been exposed to were simply appalling ….and the very opposite of professional!

One mother described how she had been told by a paediatrician that her son’s difficulties stemmed from the fact that she didn’t breastfeed him long enough. Another said that the special needs coordinator in her daughter’s school had criticised her parenting style, after meeting her for two minutes, during which time the teacher could not possibly have based this judgement on evidence. And even if she had, there are ways and ways of giving feedback. A third parent commented on the fact that she is not treated as an individual in such meetings, merely referred to as “Mum”. She is not addressed by her proper name and therefore loses something of her identity, being grouped in with all the other “mums” that the professional sees in the course of a day.

Doesn’t inspire confidence and build a trusting, mutually respectful relationship, does it?

Why, oh, why do professionals do this when the way to get the most out of these (often time-limited) conversations is to treat the parent like a real human being, with knowledge about their own child, with views and opinions gathered over many months and years rather than a quick, often cursory, initial assessment? Yes, the professionals may not agree with the parents’ viewpoint, based on their own field of expertise and the knowledge base that goes along with this, but surely there are better ways of handling these conversations. It shouldn’t be about snap judgements of someone’s parenting style or a demeaning form of address. It should be a meeting of minds with both the parent and professional tackling the concerns being raised….and not each other! A mature adult to adult conversation, rather than the professional concerned adopting a position of power or even, in transactional analysis terms, a critical ‘parent’ talking down to a ‘child’.

So here are a few suggestions for parents going into a meeting with a medical or educational professional:

  • Be clear about what you want to get out of the meeting (but be prepared to change your focus should new information come to light).
  • Take with you any notes you might need to refer toIf you find it difficult to challenge ‘authority’ figures, rehearse what you want to say and maybe even role play it with a friend before the meeting.
  • Let the other person know how you would like to be addressed. If you’re happy to be called by your first name, for example, then say so.
  • Agree an objective with the other person at the start of the meeting and find out how long the conversation is likely to last.
  • If they can’t devote sufficient time to the concerns in hand, then ask to reschedule the meeting.
  • If you find yourself dropping into child or subservient mode, take a moment and remind yourself that you have every right to be there and to put your views forward.
  • If you want to challenge a point, fogging can be a useful technique….”you may well be right, however….”.
  • If you’re presented with new information that you don’t recognise, ask for evidence and examples.
  • Tackle the issue and not the person, “How are we……?”.
  • Make a note of action points and confirm back to them who is going to do what after the meeting and by when, in as specific a way as possible.
  • If the professional doesn’t provide you with a summary or report after the meeting, drop them an email reminding them of the action points you have both agreed.

And some suggestions for medical and educational professionals meeting with parents:

  • All of the above.
  • Use the parent’s name, as appropriate.
  • Try to keep the conversation on an adult level.
  • As the conversation progresses, monitor the parent’s body language: if they seem uncomfortable or anxious, try to find out why and ask yourself if anything you are doing or saying is prompting this reaction.

Good luck and here’s to productive meetings!

We do offer a range of training courses for teachers and support sessions for senior leadership team members in schools. Please do get in touch to find out more.