"How to deal with the argumentative parent"
by Gary Cole


I'm dealing this month with a request from one of my fine Canadian friends, Sherry Mercer, and the topic is dealing with an argumentative parent. No matter if you are clowning, ballooning or face painting you will at some point deal with this situation. I'll break it into stages as the direction on how to handle the situation will vary with virtually any situation.
First of all you need to remember the top two things you need to do. First is to be honest and the second is to keep at least your side of the conversation as calm as possible. There is great wisdom in " a soft voice can turneth away wrath". If you have the fraying memory I have, you need to always be honest. If you always tell the truth then you simply do not have to keep track of all of the lies. I've also found that when I tell the truth and take my beating (when applicable), the problem can be resolved quicker and there is less of YOUR blood split. Also, I'm a father of six children (three of which are or have gone through or are going through the teen stage) I'm telling you that ALL arguments will crash and burn once the volume on both sides gets turned up. If you can simply watch your tone, you can work through most battles. I'll also admit that this is very hard to do when your customer is very angry and you do not yet have your paycheck in your hand. Negotiate fairly and remember your next few jobs could be impacted on how you handle this problem.
I worked for many years in a corporate purchasing environment so I have learned the trick of not allowing the person you are battling with see you sweat. Even if you are hiding it, don't let them know that they have you rattled. Try your best to keep calm. Focus on not raising your voice. Again, once you are yelling at each other the war is over and you both have lost.
In the heat of battle, make sure you keep the current issue on the front burner. Simply do not let the parent move on to the next violation until the first is resolved. If they veer off course then pull them back to the problem at hand. If you can fight the battle block by block you can eventually tear down the wall. There is nothing wrong with defending yourself.
Ok, lets focus on three issues. 1) what to do when you are right and they are wrong, 2) what to do when they are right and have valid reasons to be unhappy and 3) know when it is a lost cause and tuck tail and run.
There will be many times when they are upset over issues like price or timing or whatever and you know that you have previously set the groundwork. This will come many times on issues like, you tell them you can face paint approximately 12 to 15 children per hour and when you show up there are 30 kids present. With most issues you can and should address this up front, even before you start painting. With this scenario put the burden back onto their side of the court. For example... "Mrs. Jones, thank you for inviting me for John's birthday party. We have scheduled that I should do face painting from four to five pm. We advertise that we can generally can paint about twelve to fifteen faces per hour and it looks like we have close to double that amount. What would you like me to do? I can paint the one hour and stop whenever the time is up, I can work longer and charge you the hourly fee or I can paint very simple designs (rather than the normal faces) on all except the birthday child. How should we resolve this?" In any circumstance, if you are in the right, and you find it necessary, then stand up for what you feel is right. Hold them accountable and keep in mind my old saying... "you do not get in life what you deserve, you get what you negotiate". Hold firm on those issues, that you feel are important. If you stick to the facts and keep calm, then worst case, you can get a compromise much closer to something that is fair. I have found that most people will be fair and most people will at least compromise. Remember, you have lost the battle if you raise your voice. I'll also note here that if you have people that work for you, and they get into a conflict beyond their ability, then have them call you for problem resolution. Some people handle conflict better than others. You will get what you want generally if you work toward a fair outcome, you are honest and you keep your tone down. If you can have the "battle" in front of others you will find that the host will most likely compromise and do it quicker. In this type of conflict I tend to put on my parent hat, and be firm but fair.
Ok, lets go on to the issue of they are right and they have a right to be a little miffed at you. This can happen with issues like, you being late for the event, you spilled your drink on their carpet or you snapped a bit harshly at the birthday boy because he keeps playing in your face paints. I would probably say that most people have the tendency to avoid confrontation. If they confront you, then generally, they also realize that they risk looking like a smuck in front of their friends. This is why I would suggest you try to have confrontations in front of others. It might be embarrassing but generally this works in your favor. If the host or parent raises their voice and you keep yours calm, then almost always it will work to your advantage as long as you stay calm. Be honest with yourself as well as the angry person. If you did something wrong then do everyone a favor and admit to your error. If you are thirty minutes late, in the least either reduce your fee, or work an extra thirty minutes. If you are late and you have any justification at all, then state it."Mrs. Jones, I'm very sorry I am late but there was an accident on the highway delaying all traffic. I'll get right to work and I'm willing to reduce the rate or work thirty minutes extra so you will receive your full value." If you are honest, you will come out way ahead. It never hurts to grovel when they have a right to complain. Again, generally, they will not complain to your face unless they are right or there has been some misunderstanding. If you can keep a smile on your face and keep your tone down, then you will come out way ahead.
Now comes the third factor. Know when it is time to tuck tail and run. If you have not discovered it by now, you need to know that the world has actually turned out a number of losers, jerks, idiots and some people are operating two cans short of a six pack. Sometime you can be 100% right and have all the facts in your favor and some idiot will still want to battle with you. Keep in mind, the worst thing that can generally happen is you work for an hour or two and you not get paid. I'm not saying that it is not worth fighting the battles, but know when it is time to fight and also learn when it is time to say, it simply is not worth putting up with this idiot for twenty minutes more. I can knock heads with the best of them but sometimes it actually does pay to make a comment like... "Mrs. Jones it appears that we have a difference of opinion here. I'll simply agree to disagree. I'll tell you what... if you honestly feel you are 100% right and I'm 100% wrong then I'll let you decide what you think you will pay me or how we can resolve your concerns. I always try to be honest and fair with people and I only hope you will feel the same way. I've given you two hours of work, valued at $XXX. If you feel this is not fair then I'll let you write the check for anything you feel is fair and we can simply part ways." With this approach you will find them rather baffled. You get to go home quicker, with dignity and keep in mind you always have the right to never do business with them again. You will sleep better at night and you will chuckle when you later think about that truly baffled look on their face.
I'm one of those people that feels that if you treat others fairly, then they will treat you fairly. Battle if you want, battle when necessary, but never let them see you sweat and do not raise your voice. If they are a jerk then do not lower your standards to their level. I have found that I get lots of repeat and referral business. Yes, I've had several skirmishes but in the end I have been happy with the results.

Gary Cole


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