connecting with challenging people

Once when I was dealing with some challenging people my dad told me, “People just want to be heard.”  That statement changed how I interact with people.

In the past 10 years I have had a lot of challenging discussions with people over volume level, the organ, the choir loft, where singers should stand on the stage, guitar solos, and other delightful (!) topics.  Some people were polite about their questions or concerns, and others were belligerent.  On one occasion a person came to me and said that they felt the worship team vocalists were only concerned about performance and not about truly worshipping.  This person was and continues to be a wonderful prayer warrior and committed Christian.  I knew that her comment came from a sincere place in her heart.  I also knew, however, that the vocalists on the worship team had been undergoing a lot of scrutiny and were really working hard to keep their hearts in the right place.

Several steps have helped me navigate concerns such as this one whether they are from friendly or hostile sources.  I wish I could say I was perfect in following these steps myself, but I would be violating step number four, which states the importance of honesty!

1.  Validate the person’s feelings and opinions.  99% of the time the person will be sharing something they are truly concerned about and not just throwing grenades.  Communicate clearly to the person that you respect their opinion.  Side note: if you do not respect their opinion simply because everyone has a right to one, then check your attitude.

2.  Try to understand their point of view.  You have probably heard this many times, but you need to be able to think and feel what they are thinking and feeling before you will really be able to answer with empathy.  Ask them questions about how they came to their conclusion and repeat what you hear back to them to make certain you have understood them correctly.  Side note: only ask questions for which you really want to hear the answer.

3.  Thank them for speaking directly to you.  If you know they have come directly to you before talking to their friends, thank them even more explicitly for following the biblical principles set out in Matthew 15.  I don’t know how many times someone has come up to me and said, “I speak for myself and a lot of other people when I say that . . .”  In that case I tend to say, “Well, next time tell those other people to come talk to me; you are not their secretary.”  Side note: make certain you are approachable.  If you are not approachable, thanking them will sound insincere.

4.  Reply honestly and transparently.  If the person has a valid concern which you are presently working to fix, tell them you are in the process of correcting that very thing.  If the person seems to have a valid point, but you are not completely convinced at the time, tell them you will think and pray about it, and then make certain you think and pray about it!  If you are pretty certain what they are saying is invalid, still be polite, respect their opinion, and tell them in a graceful way that you do not agree with them.  Side note: if you are not honest in one-on-one discussions, people will not believe you are being honest when you are leading worship on Sunday morning.  Besides, dishonesty is, well, sin.

5.  Do not promise anything.  People often choose to share concerns in passing or at other inopportune moments; you have no obligation to solve the world’s problems on the turn of a dime.  I have been known to say, “I don’t know what to think about that right now, but thank you for sharing it with me,” or something to that effect.  Also, know your temperament.  If you are a slow cooker like me, rarely, if ever, should you decide something on the spot.  On the other hand, if you are more of a “microwave” in your decision making, you can feel freer to make decisions.  On the average, however, and particularly in a church environment, you should refrain from making significant decisions on the spot.  Side note: make a promise now and regret it later.  Hold off making a promise now and make a better one later.

What strategies have worked for you as you dealt with challenging people and/or concerns?

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