Most Parents Fail at School-Related Crucial Conversations

Provo, Utah October 15, 2014 – A national study reveals that 3 in 4 parents overestimate their effectiveness in helping their children navigate school-related issues, and many rely too heavily on teachers or school administrators to fix the problems.

While most parents think they are skilled at helping their children cope with these problems, only about half have effectively resolved the issues, according to a survey of 986 parents by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors of The New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Approximately 75 percent of parent respondents felt they had aced the test in at least one of the common school-related problems, including their child’s academic performance, discipline problems, and social issues like bullying. Yet when parents were asked about how they dealt with these issues in real life, 35 percent failed to raise key issues with teachers or administrators, and 18 percent more tried but described their interventions as “not at all successful.”

According to the study, parents see themselves as far more skilled at these discussions than teachers and administrators, yet parents put very little responsibility on themselves.

“We found that even when parents DO take responsibility for their child’s school issues, their perceived ability is a lot higher than their actual ability to handle them,” said Maxfield. “In addition to highlighting this skills gap among parents, we believe the study shows the extent to which parents ‘outsource’ these issues to teachers – rather than taking responsibility for themselves to hold these key conversations that can spell success or failure for their child.”

What can parents do to master these conversations? Grenny and Maxfield offer the following tips:

  • Get your motives right. It’s easy to get defensive about issues with kids. Parents and teachers both feel attacked and accused. The key to a healthy conversation is to remind yourself and the other person of the shared goal – helping the child succeed.
  • Defuse defensiveness. Start the conversation by assuring the other person of what you are not there to do. For example, “I’m not here to blame you. I am here to understand …” If you’re a parent, let the teacher know you want to help them succeed without creating more work or drama for them. If you’re a teacher, assure the parent it’s all about the child’s success, not criticizing the parent.
  • Start with facts. Use specific facts—details about incidents—to illustrate your concerns to the teacher or administrator. Use all facts available; if your child is partially at fault, be quick to admit it.

“The good news is that in some of the stories submitted in the survey, either the parent or the teacher did use one or more of these crucial skills to either diffuse or completely solve the issue their child was facing,” said Grenny. “It may seem astonishing, but as the study proved, these simple skills work – but aren’t being used often enough.”

Note to Editor: Grenny and Maxfield are available for interview. Copies of their book Crucial Conversations, as well as full results of this survey, and hi-res infographics are also available.

About VitalSmarts:

An innovator in corporate training and leadership development, VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything Training and New York Times bestselling books of the same titles. When used in combination, these courses enable organizations to achieve new levels of performance by changing employee behavior. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than one million people worldwide.

CONTACT: Steve Jensen of VitalSmarts, +1-385-312-1513, or



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