How To Respond When A Parent Says: "I Pay Your Salary"

This is a common thing people say to public sector employees and that includes teachers and school administrators. Apart from it being a rather silly comment, teachers have a tendency to want to point out how silly it is - to "prove" to the parent that it's a ridiculous thing to say.

That never works.

"I Pay Your Salary" as Bait

This kind of pressuring tactic is "bait". It has nothing to do with whatever issue is being discussed (student behavior, not doing homework, etc), and it is a parent's primitive attempt to pressure you into doing what s/he wants you do do.

If you respond directly to the pressure, you dignify it, and it shows that the parent is getting to you, so the parent continues to push that point. If you take the bait by responding, you give up control of the conversation, and end up arguing whether the parent pays your salary or not, a point that is completely irrelevant to whatever the issue is.

So your first step is not to "bite" on the bait. You don't have to respond directly to this. So what do you say?

Example Dialogue:

The parent is upset about a low mark her child received on a test and is trying to convince the teacher to make it into a passing grade.

(1) Parent: I pay your salary and I demand that you raise the grade to at least a pass.

(2) Teacher: I can see that you feel strongly about this and that you care a lot.

(3) Parent: Of course I do. I want my child to do well.

(4) Teacher: Not all parents care as much as you do about their children, and that's a very good thing. I know you care about the mark, and that you want your child to learn as much as possible, right?

(5) Parent: I believe learning is everything in life.

(6) Teacher: Well, we sure agree about that. I'm wondering whether we can figure out some way to help John do better next time? If we work together, I'm sure we can help him bring up his mark, AND master the topic. Can we do that?

(7) Parent: I still think your mark was unfair, but OK. Let's see.


In #2, the teacher realizes that the "pay your salary" comment is completely irrelevant, that it's bait, or, in other words a red herring. She decides to respond to the underlying emotions, and actually turns the comment into an opportunity to congratulate the parent on caring so much. This is a form of empathy in action.

By doing so, the teacher sidesteps the pressure, and also sends a subtle message that she's not going to be intimidated.

In #4, the teacher tries to shift the attention of the parent away from the "score" and to the importance of learning. Ultimately she creates agreement (we call this tactic, engineering agreement).

In #6, the teacher steers the conversation to what parent and teacher can do together to help John learn more effectively. Note the use of WE, rather than focusing on what the parent can do. This creates a sense of working together.

To Summarize:

Don't take the bait: Bait is anything that sidetracks the conversation, and is, by and large, completely irrelevant to the specific issue on the table.

Empathize and Look For The Positive: The teacher could have become angry, and focused on the disagreement, but she shows she recognizes both the parent's concern and emotions. She actually compliments the parent on caring.

Engineer Agreement: The teacher leads the parent to a point where their concerns and interests intersect -- the child's learning. this starts a sense that both parties can work together for a common goal, even if there is disagreement in the first place.

Look To The Future - Problem-Solve: Once the parent is less emotional, and realizes this pressure isn't going to work, she is much more likely to want to find a solution for the future. That's when it's appropriate to work together (the WE part), to see what can be accomplished. What's important here is that problem-solving cannot occur as long as the parent is really upset, so timing is critical.