How to Burn a Bridge with a Parent

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It was Back to School Night for parents a few weeks ago and I introduced myself to my son’s new school counselor. Following our greeting exchange, I politely asked in private how my son was doing. The 6’4 twenty-something counselor immediately pulled his body away, avoided eye contact, and said with force, “I can’t talk about that because of confidentiality.” His defensiveness to my innocent question caught me off guard.

After ignoring my impulse to walk away from his intimidating presence, I asked him to clarify what he was talking about. Specifically, because the treatment goal is just improving social skills. The counselor blurted some scripted speech about needing to protect my son’s privacy and wanting to preserve rapport with him. He was unapologetic and appeared apathetic to my curiosity.

When I finally mustered up the courage to tell him I was frustrated and that no one at the school had ever talked to me in his tone, he acquiesced and gave me some general updates about my son. At that point, all rapport with me was destroyed and I was emotionally checked out of the conversation. My detachment from our interaction prevented him from hearing any useful tips and strategies that would make his job less challenging this school year.

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Bridge Burning 101:

  1. Dismiss a parent’s question about how their child is doing.
  2. Use confidentiality as an excuse to not engage.
  3. Use body language that shows you are in control and disinterested.
  4. Use a memorized script to answer questions.
  5. Invalidate a parent’s feelings.
  6. Be inconsistent with what you say and do.
  7. Neglect to ask a parent for their input and see the value of their collaboration.
  8. Permit interruptions and give divided attention to others.

 

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