Do you emerge from a meeting, a phone conversation or an exchange of emails with the professionals who are supposed to be helping your family, feeling, well… like this? 👇 Then you need these five tips for dealing with professionals that will help you take back control.
Five game-changing tips for dealing with professionals
1. Dress like them
By which I mean, dress as though you are at a business meeting. Don’t let them look down on you as ‘just a parent’. I work from home and live in jeans and jumper most of the time, but for meetings with teachers, social workers, and medical people I wear work clothes – usually black trousers and a tunic top – which is similar to the kinds of things worn by the professionals who work with our family.
2. Take framed photos of your child(ren) to meetings
This is a tip from Yvonne Newbold’s excellent book The Special Parent’s Handbook. I did this at Joanna’s EHCP review meeting, because so many of the professionals there had never met her and we were there to make potentially life-changing decisions for her. I wanted them to remember the little girl behind all the paperwork – the girl outside of the school environment who is still utterly vulnerable in the hands of the decision-makers. I’m pretty sure it helped. It certainly showed them we were serious about representing her best interests.
3. Ask ‘What would you do?’
A helpful technique I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed and was reminded of in Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier this week is to ask the professional who stands between you and the outcome you want, ‘What would you do, if you were in our situation?’ This makes them pause, if only for a few moments, to consider things from your perspective. They may have more information than you about potential solutions and loopholes in the red tape. This is a good way to help nudge them into suggesting practical compromises or ways forward.
If you want to get things done and people are dragging their feet, get free and easy with the CC button. Copy in the head of department, the county councillor, the MP… this often results in emergency meetings being called and conversations being had that you were previously informed couldn’t possibly happen. Oh look, now they can.
5. Write kick-ass emails
I know your time is precious and this thing is frustrating and you have Big Feelings about it all. And I also know that the recipients of our emails sometimes don’t read them as thoroughly as they might. But we’ve got this. Writing good emails can get results. It’s often the easiest way to get your message directly to the top of the organisation you’re dealing with.
The who, the what, the where, the when, the why*
(*This is a quote from my favourite episode of my favourite TV programme. Bonus points for naming it in the comments. 😉 )
I’ve previously tried hard to be professional in my tone, keeping it measured and taking out some of the more emotive stuff. But it turns out that doesn’t get results. Letting a bit of emotion show seems to be working better. If, like us, your children are hurting you and each other and you feel desperate because help is too slow in coming, say so.
Emails with action points are likely to get good results. And a strong subject line doesn’t do any harm, either. This might sound ridiculous, and of course it shouldn’t be necessary, but thinking of your message to them like a marketer thinks of their audience can help. (Yes, for me and Pete this is our day job, and we like to think we’re quite good at it, but it’s not rocket science. You could start here if you want to read more about basic principles of copywriting.) If you prefer, write it as you would write a blog post.
The paper trail is important, and if you end up needing to refer back to something you wrote several months ago, how much stronger is your case if you can quote the email where you laid it all out clearly and said exactly what action was needed and why. So write them a belter. And don’t forget to CC your MP if things need a bit more of a shove.
Bonus patriarchal nonsense tip
A bonus tip – that I really hate to share because it is unfeminist, unfair and enormously frustrating, but we’ve found that when Pete emails it gets a better response. What’s different about his writing? Not much, though he is much less concerned about being concise and polite than I am.
Even if it’s an email we’ve written together, sending it from his account seems to result in more action. So maybe, if you’re female, get a bloke to grumpy it up a bit/send it from their account/experiment with seeing whether this makes a difference for you. I’m sorry. Just throwing this one out there for you to take or leave.
If you have thoughts or experience of this, please leave a comment – it irks me but I really think there’s something in it, and I want to know if you’ve noticed this too.
Do you have any other tips that help you get the results you want when you are dealing with professionals? I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below.