Behavioral Interviewing: The Key to Hiring Success

behavioral interviewIn my last blog post, I identified reasons why traditional interviewing just doesn’t work. I also promised to share what does work, and that is behavioral interviewing.

So what is behavioral interviewing? It is a structured interview process where questions are focused on inquiring about a candidate’s past performance.


“The single best predictor of a candidate’s future job performance is his or her past job behavior.”

“How do we know this is true?  Because  it’s been proved in thousands of actual job situations for more than two decades.  Interviews that probe for past behavior have been found to be more reliable than ones that focus on personality traits, such as ‘I’m dependable,’ or ‘I’m hardworking,’ or even, ‘You can count on  me.’ And hiring decisions based on actual behavior are far more accurate than those based on gut feeling.”

“What many successful interviewers have found is that the way in which a person handled a specific situation in the past gives you valid information about how that person will approach similar situations in the future.  If a person worked well with customers in the past, he or she will most likely be effective with customers in the future.  If the person has had trouble communicating well in the past, you can predict that he or she will continue to have communication problems in the future.” 

“This is the foundation for behavior-based interviewing.  Once you understand this concept, you can plan to ask the kinds of questions that will give you the information you need to make good hiring decisions.”

– Excerpts from the video, “Interviewing: More than a Gut Feeling,” Richard S. Deems, Ph.D.

So what types of behavioral interviewing questions should you ask? It depends on the skills you’re trying to assess. However, here are some common skill sets that are important across a variety of positions and fields. These questions should give you an idea of the types of questions you should be asking to weed out that truly “great fit” candidate!


  • Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?
  • In your past interactions, how do you ensure that someone understands what you are saying?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to present complex information.
  • Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communication skills in order to get across an important point.

Decision Making

  • Give me an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome?
  • Give me an example of when taking your time to make a decision paid off?

Planning and Organization

  • Describe a situation when you had many projects due at the same time. What steps did you take to get them all done?
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give me an example.
  • We’ve all been in situations where something just “slipped through the cracks.”  Tell me about a time when this happened to you and how you handled it?


  • Describe a time where you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.
  • Describe a time when you put your own goals aside to help a co-worker understand a task. How did you assist him? What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to drop everything and focus your attention on a new task.  What did you do and how did it affect you?


  • Tell me about a time when you influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership role.
  • Give me an example of when you involved others in making a decision.
  • Think about an employee you hired for your team and tell me how you helped this person assimilate into his/her job duties and the team.

Time Management

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What thing did you fail to do? What were the repercussions? What did you learn?
  • Tell me about a time when you were particularly effective on prioritizing tasks and completing a project on schedule.


These are just sample questions you might ask. However, I hope they give you an idea of how to phrase a behavioral-based question. Now, your task is to go back and assess the position for which you’re hiring AND identify key competencies and commitment (attitude/value) elements that will ensure success, and write behavioral-based questions that will help you find that “right fit” employee!


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You’re Not the Person I Hired! Five Reasons Your Employment Interview Process Fails

princeI was facilitating an employment interviewing workshop the other day and as we were discussing why people were taking the course, one participant said,

“I want to learn why the person I hired isn’t the person who shows up on the first day of work?”

It’s all too common to have the prince or princess of the applicant world show up at the interview, but on the first day of work, a frog is napping at your front desk.


What happened?

Your employment interview process failed.

Here are five reasons why:


1. Your job description for the position you seek to fill is 20 years outdated.

Therefore, you’ve basically scammed the applicant into taking a position that doesn’t really exist and then are expecting that he or she will just go along with the “all other duties as assigned,” cop-out clause.


2. You’re still asking the same questions you’ve been asking for 20 years.

YOU: “What do you think is your greatest weakness?”

APPLICANT: “I am so dedicated to my job, I sometimes forget to go home at the end of the day.”

Guess what? EVERYONE knows the “right” answer to this question. Don’t believe me? Google it!  While you’re there, check out the right answers to these questions as well:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What’s your greatest strength?

Why do you want to work here?

Why should I hire you?

And for you contrary types, I know you’re thinking, “Sometimes people must answer truthfully.” Yes, you’re right, but not right enough to keep using these questions. Anyone dumb enough to say that his greatest weakness is his inability to get to work on time in the morning will likely weed himself out of the interview process on another question.


3. You’re asking leading questions.

YOU: “This job requires you to work every other Saturday. You don’t have a problem working every other Saturday, do you?”

APPLICANT: (Thinking. . . hmmm, I”ve got a 50/50 chance, but I’m guessing the answer she wants is NO), “Uh, no.”

If I want the job, which answer do you think I’m going to give?

And for you contrary types. . . go back and read the last paragraph of #2 above.


4. You’re asking closed questions. 

YOU: “Do you have experience working directly with customers?”


So what have you learned by the applicant’s answer? Nothing more than you will when you ask the same question to an excellent customer service provider. In fact, if you ask too many questions like this, both will appear equally qualified at the end of your process.


5. You’re asking hypothetical questions.

YOU: “Imagine you’re walking by a burning building and you see a woman on the fifth floor, leaning out the window screaming for you to save her baby, which she is holding in her arms. What would you do?”

APPLICANT: It doesn’t matter how the applicant answers!

Hypothetical questions aren’t always inappropriate. However, what would you hope to find out about the applicant for your front desk clerk position by asking this question? Even if you get the answer you’re looking for, the gap between the hypothetical and reality is often a big one. What are the odds the applicant would REALLY behave that way?

I’d much rather ask a REAL question about what the applicant REALLY did in a RELEVANT task in one of his past positions.


Now you’re saying to yourself, “Okay, so all my questions are junk. What kinds of questions should I be asking?

Be sure to check out my next blog post for the answer.



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5 Keys to a Meaningful “Thank You”

Usually, when someone provides a service, favor, or courtesy, many return the courtesy with a “thanks.” Unfortunately, there are instances when thanks is not only insufficient, but can have the exact opposite intended effect. Instead of the recipient feeling appreciated, he or she may feel unappreciated, angry, and very unwilling to do anything to help us again.

“Thanks for passing the ketchup,” works.

“Hey Bob, thanks for the kidney,” seems to fall short.

 –From “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done”

I was facilitating a workshop and had just discussed the importance of showing appreciation, when we took a 10 minute break. During the break, a  senior manager approached me and said,

“I don’t see why I should thank my employees for doing what’s in their job descriptions; they’re getting paid to do the job afterall.” 

I won’t get into our discussion regarding money and motivation- I’ll save that for a future post. However, regarding appreciation, my response included the following comments:

• Everyone needs encouragement and to know that their effort is appreciated

• It doesn’t matter if it’s in their job description, good work is worthy of appreciation

• A little appreciation pays off- good work that gets noticed will likely get repeated

• It takes 30 seconds or less to make someone’s day with a meaningful “thank you”

• Appreciation given is usually reciprocated—and as we know …(repeat first bullet)



However, as the above excerpt from “Practical Communication” notes, there’s “thanks” and there’s a meaningful “thank you” and we don’t want to confuse one with the other.

“Thanks” is adequate appreciation for ketchup passed and other tasks requiring minimal effort.

However, if this is how you show all appreciation, others will feel unappreciated and possibly even angry.

Imagine how you’d feel if you worked through your lunch hour for a week to help a friend, only to have him or her just say “thanks” when you’re done? Or even better, my favorite- the “backhanded” thanks,

“Thanks. It’s about time you got this to me.”

A meaningful “thank you” is necessary for hard work, quality work, and of course, donated body parts. To show others appreciation that will make their day, follow these “5 Keys to a Meaningful Thank You.”


1. Be timely- say “thank you” right away.

2. Be specific- tell the person exactly what he or she did that you appreciate.

3. Share the impact- tell the person specifically what positive effect(s) his or her actions had on you, your family, your customers, etc.

4. Say “thank you” not “thanks,” and say it sincerely.

5. Say “thank you” in person whenever possible.

And a final tip- Be sure to provide a “thank you” in writing for those who might need it to provide their supervisors with positive material for their performance appraisals.

Remember, 30 seconds is all it takes to make someone’s day with a little appreciation. Be sure to take every opportunity every day to say “thank you” to those around you.

Have you missed opportunities already today? It’s not to late …

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50 things that life’s too short to (or not to)

“Life’s too short to drink bad coffee.”

The comment came from my Bestie Bev, who was pretty much appalled that I would reheat a cup of old coffee so as not to waste it. Although it was just a brief and not particularly profound moment in life, that statement is one I think of (and quote) often. It reminds me to keep my priorities straight and has helped me make big and little decisions in life when I struggle with choosing to take chances/risks/spend money or to play it safe and stay home.

So over the past week, I asked my Facebook friends and followers to share their beliefs about what life’s too short to, or not to, do, think, believe, etc.

Here is what they said:

Life’s too short

1.  not to laugh at yourself. Eventually, you get old. And then you know, without hesitation, that you have taken yourself far too seriously for far too many 

2.  to be someone’s option when you should be a priority. 

3.  to worry about dog hair.

4.  to eat food you don’t like.

5.  to waste time worrying about little things.

6.  not to buy the good toilet paper.

6.  not treat yourself to a mani/pedi, sleep in when you can, and eat that really awesome dessert that looks like it was made just for you! 

7.  not to dance when you want to.

8.  to have uncomfortable shoes or an uncomfortable bed because if you’re not in one, you’re in the other.

9.  to eat fat free mayo.

10. to sleep too late and miss out on life.

11. to try to be someone you’re not.

12. to argue over money.

13. to be serious all the time.

14. to waste time folding your underwear.

15. to hold a grudge.

16. to waste time matching your socks.

17. to spend time with people who steal your happiness.

18. to sweat unless you’re exercising.

19. to be petty.

20. to waste time trying to MAKE others happy, especially when they don’t want to be.

21. to be negative all the time.

22. to dwell on what you coulda, shoulda, or woulda done.

23. to waste time hating someone, you give them too much power over you.

24. to try to achieve perfection.

25. to be disappointed.

26. to focus on mistakes instead of lessons learned.

27. not to tell others what you need from them.

28. to work a job you hate.

29. to regret anything.

30. to worry, but especially about things you can’t control.

31. to care what others think more than what you think.

32. to live in the past.

33. to live someone else’s dream.

34. not to smile at strangers.

35. to stress yourself out unnecessarily

36. to be vain.

37. not to laugh out loud.

38. to keep fighting the same pointless fight.

39. not to be grateful.

40. to stand in line.

41. to be anything less than content.

42. to ignore valuable lessons.

43. to have enemies.

44. to be cranky, especially to others who aren’t.

45. to put off your dreams.

46. not to ask for help if you need it.

47. to seek stuff instead of seeking to better yourself.

48. not to tell others how you feel.

49. to give up.

50 to not remember every day how short life is and to make the most of it.



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Happiness isn’t Happenstance, It’s a Choice

puppy smilingI woke up feeling happy this morning.

Yes, it was partly because my first conscious thought was, “I have the day off  today!” However, it was also because I chose to be happy–

despite the fact that my cat woke me up sharpening her dagger claws on my hip,

despite the puppy pee I had to clean up from my foster puppy, and

despite the fact that I burned my breakfast. . . twice, because I have “shiny thing syndrome” and kept getting distracted.

We all have the ability to be happy.

You may have seen a television commercial featuring a mother who is beaming over the fact that her son is using his straw to blow bubbles in his chocolate milk, causing it to overflow the glass and spill on the table. When I first saw this commercial, I thought, “What a joke, I’d be ticked off if my kid did that.” In fact, the first several times I saw the commercial I made negative, inappropriate comments about that mother.

However, looking at the commercial again this morning, in my already established state of happiness, I chose to see it differently. The mother wasn’t happy about the spill, but about the fact that older son was bringing joy to his baby brother, who was joyfully laughing at the bubbles. Of course, this is a scripted commercial, but it reminded me that we can look at a situation and see it negatively, and therefore feel angry, upset, or frustrated, or we can look at the same situation positively and find humor and happiness.

Happiness is a choice.

Since we can choose our own thoughts, which are where happiness originates, we can choose to be happy. Below is a short documentary film entitled, “Seeking Happiness”. The filmmaker, Ariel Lepito, made the film as part of her senior mastery project last year. This insightful film is one I continue to watch to remind me that happiness can be found in many places, if we just choose to look for it.

Enjoy! (BTW, Julia and Sophia are my nieces and Ariel is their cousin!)

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30 Customer Service Mistakes that Will Cost You Business

For the past 30 days, I’ve been keeping track of customer service flaws, mistakes, errors, and omissions I’ve experienced. Since I’ve always considered myself an equal-opportunity critic, I’ve also taken note of my own mistakes as a customer service provider to my clients.

When I first started this “project,” my goal was to identify an error each day that would likely cause a customer to either stop doing business with an organization, or at least consider it.

In the end, I easily averaged three to four customer service mistakes each day. After eliminating “repeat” errors, here are my top 30 mistakes accumulated in only 30 days.

Which customer service mistakes will you admit to, and more importantly, what are you going to do to avoid them in the future so you keep your customers?

1. Not returning calls at all

2. Not returning calls when your voicemail SAYS you will (by close of business, within 24 hours, etc.)

3. Not keeping promises or commitments

4. Making promises you KNOW you can’t keep

5. Trying to justify or rationalized poor service to your customer

6. Hiring (and/or keeping) staff with bad attitudes or poor service skills

7. Blaming the customer

8. Being inaccessible to your customers

9. Responding to complaints with excuses

10. Placing “policy” before “service”

11. Waiting until after a deadline or commitment date has passed to let your customer know there’s a problem or delay

12. Not following up

13. Not treating all customers equally (cost of services, adherence to policies/procedures, etc.)

14. Failing to listen

15. Skipping basic, common courtesies such as “please,” “thank you,” etc.

16. Blaming a coworker or employee to avoid taking responsibility for a mistake

17. Poor product or service knowledge

18. Poor eye contact

19. Bringing your “baggage” with you to work (fight with spouse translates to rudeness with customers)

20. Hitting customers over the head with baggage you’ve carried over from a previous customer interaction

21. Employees socializing with each other and ignoring customers

22. Inconsistency in any aspect of business

23. Keeping callers on hold for more than 60 seconds

24. Multiple telephone transfers

25. Criticizing or reprimanding employees in front of customers

26. Calling a customer, “Hun,” “Sweetie,” or another “term of endearment”

27. Holding an in-depth conversation with “sir,” or “ma’am” and not bothering to ask (and use) the person’s name

28. Presuming to call a customer by his or her first name

29. Having a long voicemail greeting or an automated, multi-optioned phone answering system

30. Having a long, automated, multi-optioned phone answering system that either disconnects the call when the caller presses zero or starts the whole announcement over again

If you have any other customer service mistakes you’d like to add to this list- comment and let me know!


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4 Easy Steps for Expressing Your Feelings

When you were a child and were angry, upset, hurt, or frustrated, you probably didn’t have the words to express how you felt. It’s a rare three-year-old who can say,

“Mother, I’m infuriated and disillusioned with your decision to deny me that chocolate torte for my midday repast.”

angry kidInstead, a child will huff and puff, scream, cry, throw things, and otherwise have a temper tantrum.

So now that you’re an adult and have the vocabulary to express yourself, are you doing so, or are you still acting like a three-year-old?

Most of us don’t have full-blown temper tantrums, but we’re still using some of the same techniques we’ve used since we were children:

angry man. – Screaming and yelling

– Sarcasm

– Name-calling

– Dropping hints

– The “silent treatment”

None of these methods usually result in a positive outcome.

Those who don’t use any of the above methods and instead just let things go, or keep feelings bottled-up inside, still end up with less-than-desirable results.

It’s time to stop acting out our feelings or supressing them and start expressing them appropriately.

Using a four-step “I Language” statement allows us to communicate how we feel in a way that is clear, specific, and non-defensive. It’s the best chance we have for letting others really know how we feel and for getting an appropriate response from them.

To deliver an effective “I Language” statement, we should:

1. Describe the other person’s behavior.

2. Express your feelings about the behavior.

3. Explain the behavior’s consequences.

4. Make a request for future behavior.


1. Describe the other person’s behavior.

When describing the person’s behavior, be sure to specifically describe the behavior and leave out judgments and evaluations.

“You’ve been fifteen minutes late three times this week.” This statement is specific and factual—assuming you’re telling the truth.

“You’re a slacker and aren’t doing your fair share.” This statement is nonspecific and judgmental.

When we’re specific and nonjudgmental in describing people’s behavior, it’s difficult for them to argue or get defensive about something that’s true. When we use nonspecific or judgmental language, the conversation is likely to deteriorate, because when judged, most people become angry and defensive.

2. Express your feelings about the behavior.

When expressing feelings, we should begin with, “I am …” or “I feel …” and not “You make me …”

Taking responsibility for our feelings is also less likely to create a defensive response than blaming others for making us feel a certain way.

3. Explain the behavior’s consequences.

It’s important that people know the consequences of their behavior for themselves, you, the organization, customers, or others. Negative consequences can be a strong motivator for changing poor behavior. There may be instances in which a person’s behavior has several consequences. We don’t need to list them all, but we should be sure to list the ones that are most important or relevant to the situation.

4. Make a request for future behavior.

When making a request, be specific in describing the desired future behavior. In some instances, the request is implied. However, more often than not, we need to let people clearly know exactly what we need from them in the future. If the person already knew what was appropriate or what we needed, he or she would likely already be doing it. Sometimes we just need to spell it out.


“When you drive 75 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone (behavior), I get frightened (feeling), because we could get into an accident (consequences), I need you to either slow down, or please let me drive (request).”

“You’ve been fifteen minutes late three times this week.(behavior) I’m frustrated(feelings) about having to answer two phones, and I’m worried (feelings) that you’re going to get into trouble with the boss because she came by looking for you this morning.(consequences) I covered for you today, but I need you to be here at eight o’clock from now on, because I can’t continue to cover for you. (request)”

Notice the second example includes two expressions of emotions, because there are times when we may have several emotions about a situation; we could be both angry with someone and worried about the consequences. We can reveal one or several emotions based on what we feel the other person needs to know.


talk w friendThe beauty of “I Language” is its clarity.

There’s no need to scream it, hint it, or use sarcasm to get it across. For those who would suppress their feelings because they don’t know how to express them, “I Language” provides a simple formula for emotional expression.

When you state your feelings calmly, but seriously, using “I Language,” the person with whom you’re sharing your feelings will truly be able to hear them, because they won’t be distracted by your delivery, or defensive because you’ve “attacked” him or her.


Using “I Language” to assert our emotions can help in numerous interpersonal situations: from sending back a meal at a restaurant, to communicating with a spouse; from dealing with a customer service provider over the phone, to interacting with coworkers.

Being specific about the problem, clearly expressing our own feelings, and calmly explaining the potential undesired results helps to create better communication and more ownership of a solution from both parties.

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What Your Choice of Typeface Says About You

Most people don’t put much thought into what typeface they use when sending an email or creating a document.

Some might avoid Comic in a professional correspondence and instead select Arial or Times New Roman, but beyond that, I’ll bet most people have never even considered what their choice of typeface says about them.

Well, employers have. In fact, companies who used to turn to handwriting experts to “analyze” job applicants through their hand-written applications, are now looking at the typeface applicants select for correspondence and resumes to learn more about the applicant than the words on the page will tell them. To back up the legitimacy of using typeface to learn about an applicant’s skills, habits, and personality, a recent study by researchers at Wichita State University has revealed that your typeface can reflect your personality type, mood, and attitude.

Here is what the researchers found and what you might be communicating if you use some of these common typefaces.

Times New Roman

Indicates you are stable, polite, conformist, mature, formal, and practical. Times New Roman is a great choice for business and technical documents, web text, online news and tests, and spreadsheets. It is an “all-business” typeface of choice.

Courier New

Study respondents found courier to indicate the user was unimaginative, rigid, sad, dull, unattractive, plain, coarse, and masculine, in addition to conformist and mature. Save it for overdue payment notices or termination letters if you use it at all.


Arial was found to give study respondents the same “conformist” feel of Times New Roman. This typeface was also found to indicate the user was unimaginative. It is best for spreadsheets, web headlines, and PowerPoint presentations, especially if you want to present your ideas in a professional and “authoritative” manner at the next company meeting.


Verdana says you’re dull, according to respondents. It is probably best for online tests or quizzes, math documents, computer programming, spreadsheets and PowerPoint. Strangely though, it was ranked a second choice typeface to be used for text messaging.

Comic Sans

Although judged as unprofessional, subjects described those who use Comic Sans as youthful, casual, and passive. Save it for presentations or documents aimed at kids. Unless you’re selling children’s products or school supplies, using it in a business setting or on a professional website will make you look like an amateur.


Flexible, creative, happy, exciting, attractive, elegant, cuddly, and feminine—these were the adjectives associated with people who use this elaborate sans serif typeface. However, respondents also found that users might be  unstable, rebellious, youthful, casual, passive, and impractical. It’s probably best used for E-greetings and not much else. If you managed to actually read this paragraph, you’ll know why we advise you to use this typeface with extreme caution– it is very hard to read, especially at 14 point or smaller. However, it’s great for hiding spelling errors :)


Impact is another typeface you’d want to use sparingly if at all. Users of Impact were judged by study respondents to be assertive, rigid, rude, sad, unattractive, plain, coarse, and masculine Impact is probably only appropriate for “scary” attention-getting headlines or ransom notes. In general, it’s probably best to stay away from this typeface.


The final word on typeface? Use what you want for your personal correspondence. Let your personality shine through. However, for work-related correspondence and resumes (unless you’re in the visual arts), you should probably stick with the “old standards” like Times New Roman and Arial.

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Stop Using Technology as an Excuse for Poor Writing

bad spelling school zoneWhether we blame it on auto complete, which I’ve done, or we include an automatic disclaimer on your cell phone delivered messages, stating, “This message was sent from my phone, so ignore any errors,” we need to stop blaming our various communication devices for the poor messages we send.

A recent survey found that spellcheckers and other technology have created an “autocorrect generation” of people who are unable to spell common words. Additionally, I think we’ve become so lazy that we don’t even bother to read what we’re sending before we hit “send.”

Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other aspects of good writing still matter. Technology is no excuse for poor writing.

Although the economy is improving, an error on a resume or in communication with a potential employer can cost the applicant an interview. A poorly written sales pitch can cause a customer to ignore your message, distrust your product, and lose faith in you and your organization. If you can’t proofread your own message, how well do you conduct quality control on your product?

As a college instructor teaching communication, I routinely receive texts and emails from students that look something like this:

deer ms castro,

i missed classand need to knw what the assinemet was. Thank you!!! chase

Although I suppose it’s possible the sender doesn’t realize there are any errors in the message, which is a completely separate and even bigger problem, I think it’s more likely that we’ve just come to a point that we think it’s acceptable to send such a message.

However, think about what that error-riddled text or email says about the kind of person you are?

Are you unintelligent? Lazy? Careless? Sloppy? Or are you just a poor speller? No matter the interpretation, it’s not going to be a positive one.

Let’s all stop being lazy and blaming our various devices for our messy messages. Take the time to look at what you’ve written before you hit send, and you can help avoid sending a negative message about your intelligence, abilities, or attention to detail.


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8 Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher

This is my annual reminder to be sure to start the new school year off right by establishing a great relationship with your child’s teacher! Each year I add a new tip or two based on suggestions from parents and teachers. Therefore, feel free to comment and let me know your suggestions!


I have a lot of respect for teachers. Dealing with overcrowded classrooms, budget cuts, and having to pay for many of your classroom supplies yourself just doesn’t seem worth the salary most teachers are paid. Now top that off with having to deal with demanding parents, disrespectful children (not all of them of course, but they’re out there), and the expectations of other teachers, administrators, etc., and you can see how difficult it is to be a teacher.

dv1940034As a college instructor who is married to a former teacher, who is now an administrator, I’d like to offer these tips for communicating with your child’s teacher that will ensure you, your child, and the teacher have a great school year.


1. Establish communication early.

Don’t wait until there’s a problem to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Call or email him or her, saying who you are, who your child is, what support you might be able to provide during the year, and to wish him or her a great school year. Having established rapport with your child’s teacher early in the year will make things a lot easier should there be problems, questions, or concerns later.


2. Treat the teacher with respect.

Some people take an “I pay your salary, so you’re my servant,” attitude toward teachers. Teachers are partners in your child’s education, not the hired help. It’s important to use common courtesy when communicating with them—just as you’d expect in return. Another element of respect is going directly to the teacher, not to the principal, or your cousin the superintendent, if there’s a problem. Always go directly to the teacher first, before elevating the situation to someone higher up the “chain of command.”


3. Take opportunities to provide compliments and praise.

Let’s face it, when things are going well, we rarely take the opportunity to tell people they’re doing a great job. It’s not until something goes wrong that most people take the time to “communicate” with others. Most teachers don’t hear anything from parents unless it’s a complaint, problem, or “suggestion for improvement.” Be sure to look for opportunities to provide sincere praise and appreciation to your child’s teachers for doing their jobs well.


4. Ask, don’t accuse.

Children sometimes come home with different perceptions of situations that occurred at school that day than what actually happened. Before taking the story as fact, ASK the teacher about the situation.

You might start off saying, “I heard there might have been an issue today between Morgan and Hannah. Can you tell me more about what happened?” Rather than starting with, “Hannah said you punished her for no reason…”

If you’re concerned about the level or amount of work your child is doing, don’t say, “You’re giving Kelsey too much homework,” instead, you might say, “I’m concerned about the amount of homework Kelsey is bringing home, is there a reason it seems to be significantly more lately?”


5. Don’t be defensive.

Most parents have a difficult time seeing the “imperfections” in their children. When a teacher offers an observation about your child that’s less than complimentary, try to remember that the teacher is only offering it because he or she wants your child to succeed.

Try to look at your child’s behavior objectively. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask the teacher for specific examples before you respond, so you can better understand the situation. If you find you can’t, ask for some time to think about what the teacher has shared and set a follow-up appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue further.


6. Acknowledge first, share your needs (or your child’s needs), then ask the teacher how you can work together to find a solution.

Depending on your approach, or possibly the teacher’s past experience with parents who want to “have a chat,” the teacher might be wary or even defensive. To avoid creating a defensive situation, or making a defensive person more defensive, acknowledge the teacher’s position, PAUSE, then share your own needs.

Don’t say:

“I know my child isn’t the only one in your class, but YOU NEED TO give him more difficult  work.”

Note how the word “but” basically discounts the first half of what you said, leaving the second.

Instead, say:

“I know having 23 seven year olds it’s not possible to cater math lessons to just one child.  (Pause) I want to help foster my son’s love of math and his abilities. What can we do together to provide him with more challenging math problems?”

Note how this response shows your willingness to work with the teacher. It’s possible the teacher can’t meet your child’s advanced math needs and a solution outside the classroom, or even a different class, might be needed.


7. Teach your children to speak for themselves.

I remember my daughter coming home in 3rd grade with a paper that was marked 85, but when she added up the points, she should have earned a 91. She wanted me to call her teacher and take care of it. I refused and told her that she should go to her teacher the next day and politely ask her if she could recheck the grade. The next day, all was well and the grade was corrected. Teachers are human and make mistakes and students need to learn to talk to their teachers. I always tell my college students the same thing. Ask me if you have a question or think there’s been an error—especially since math isn’t my strong suit!

8. Don’t try to resolve major problems or conflicts via email.

You don’t have to make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher for every little issue or question—neither you nor the teacher probably has time to do so. However, for major problems, it’s better to discuss the issue face-to-face or on the phone for three reasons.

First, I’ve found that people become awfully “brave” when hiding behind a computer screen. When they’re angry or upset about something, they’ll say things in an email that they’d likely never say face-to-face or on the phone.

Second, the nonverbal elements of facial expressions, body language, and most importantly vocal qualities or your tone, don’t exist in email form. Therefore, a question you might ask that you intend to be totally straightforward, such as, “When will Drew’s grade be posted?” might come across as a sarcastic accusation, because people read emails as if a person was speaking to them. They infer tone and attitude—and they’re more likely to infer negatively than positively.

Finally, once you send that angry email, it’s gone. There’s no taking it back. In fact, if you do later regret sending that note to the teacher and try to “recall it,” that just makes that email more intriguing and more likely to be opened. If you don’t want to say something you’ll regret later, wait until you cool off and pick up the phone.


Teachers and parents: what other suggestions would you add to next year’s list of tips? Let me know!



Here’s hoping everyone gets off to a great start in the new school year and builds great relationships with their children’s teachers!

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Welcome , today is Thursday, January 29, 2015