I am a long-standing fan of the show, “How I Met Your Mother” or HIMYM. The characters are just amazing, well-written, and so relatable. One of my favorite characters is Marshall. As a growing professional, Marshall has had some interesting challenges to get his career to where he wants it to be. Among them, he deals with a very overbearing, borderline incompetent, boss named Arthur. In this episode (Season 3 Episode 15), Marshall is continually berated by Arthur, leading Barney to share the ‘Chain of Screaming’.
As educators, we can occasionally find ourselves somewhere in the chain of screaming. This is never something that is beneficial nor is it a great way to solve any problems. Unfortunately, I have dealt with an angry parent or two who believed they could read me the ‘riot act’ and get what they wanted. I rarely worked with a boss who was a yeller, but saw the occasional student who thought it was an appropriate path to take. It happens, so be prepared when that person (who has rehearsed everything they will say to you prior to arriving) shows up at your door. To help, here are three leadership moves to help you find your way out of the chain of screaming, and better yet, stop the screams in their path.
1. Set boundaries & stand your ground: most of those who ‘come in hot’, think that screaming at you is going to change the outcome of the conversation. I once had a grandmother walk into my office for a meeting and, before she’d even sat down, had called me two profane names and ask ‘who the f**k I thought I was’. Wow…coming in hot is an understatement. I was prepared, not because I expected it, but rather because I knew every meeting what my boundaries were and how I would stand my ground. I politely told the woman that she had two choices at this point. She could either, 1) take a deep breath, calm down, and have a polite conversation with me or, 2) she could leave. I informed her, like I had done a few times before, that nobody speaks to anyone in our organization that way, including me. I am happy to talk to anyone, but I will do so on my terms. She left in a huff. However, she returned about 45 minutes later and apologized. We had a very good conversation, including how the reason she was angry actually had nothing to do with the school district. We actually hired this person a year or so later to help out in our cafeteria. She reminded me a couple times over my remaining time in the district about that first introduction and how she really respected the way I stood up for everyone in the district that day. Set boundaries, stand your ground…you won’t regret it.
2. Be a listener, not a screamer: if you find yourself in the screaming chain and think you’ll scream your way to victory…you are wrong. The best leaders are listeners. Once you’ve established boundaries and have entered the calm conversation area – LISTEN. The whole point behind why most people yell is because they are used to being ignored or pacified. Actually listen to what has them upset and, if possible, offer solutions to the problem. As difficult as it can be in the moment, if you remain calm and focus on listening (so don’t take it personal), you have a strong chance of stopping the screaming in its tracks.
3. Be willing to walk away: not all screamers will be swayed by boundaries and your willingness to listen. Sometimes you just have to walk away. That might mean hanging up the phone. It could be getting up and leaving, even if it is your own office. But have the courage to end the conversation if the screamer refuses to cease and desist. If it becomes necessary, simply put a hand forward and say, “I am sorry but this meeting is not productive and you have refused to stop yelling. I am going to leave (hang up) now. When you are ready to have a civil, professional conversation, I am happy to re-engage at that time. Goodbye.”
Nobody deserves to be screamed at, nobody!! As a leader in your organization, please take the steps necessary for all of your staff to know they are empowered to take the steps listed above. It is quite unfortunate that, in our current society, that people feel they can treat others with extreme disrespect, especially educators. Consider putting together a quick sheet for each educator to have in their classroom or by every phone that has phrases you’d like them to use in volatile situations. This will help them to be as well prepared as possible if the screaming begins. Train secretaries, security guards, other leaders in the building on how to address angry parents who come in the door. Odds are, you won’t be the first person to speak with them. My secretaries were all well schooled in how to greet even the angriest of people. It didn’t always work, but they knew they were doing all they could and how to not take it personal when the Grumpy Gus chose to take that route. Together, we can break the chain of screaming!!
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