Aug 6, 2021

How to Respond to Angry People

Children's ministry is normally a happy, encouraging and fun place to be.

But there are times when people get upset. Volunteers get upset. Parents get upset. Staff members get upset.  

Often these outbursts will catch you off guard.  

A parent forgets their security tag and then throws a fit because he or she has to go to guest services for pick-up clearance.  

A staff member doesn't agree with something you are doing or did and they tell you all about it in an elevated encounter.  What starts out as a civil conversation can turn ugly if you don't know what to do.

A volunteer is complaining to other volunteers about something they don't like.  When you try to sit down and talk with them about it, the situation quickly escalates and before you know it, he or she is yelling at you. 

Think these types of situations won't happen to you?  Think again.  If you have been serving any amount of time, you've probably faced this or something else similar.   

So when this happens, what should you do?  If you don't have a plan ahead of time, it probably won't be a very good situation. 

You see, as a leader you need to already know how you will respond in these type of situations. It's going to happen to you, sooner or later. 

Dealing with an angry person is not easy.  Especially if it's a sudden outburst that catches you off guard.  But it can go better if you have a strategy ahead of time.  Let me help you with a plan.  Here are some key steps that will help you properly respond to people who are angry and are telling you about it in a tense mood.

1. Stay calm.  Don't lose your cool.  Our natural response is to fight back.  Don't.  Instead, take some deep breaths and gather your thoughts.  

2. Take it down a level.  Resist the temptation to fight back.  If you match the person's voice level, it can inflame the situation even more.  Instead, drop your voice level down several measures.

3. Don't take it personal.  Most of the time, the person is angry about a failure in your system, personnel or policy.

4. Listen carefully to what they are saying.  Most people just want to be heard.  They want someone they can vent to. Listen without talking.  Listen without strategizing what you are going to say as soon as they are done.  Repeat back what they said.
 
5. Show empathy.  Most people just want to know that someone cares about their feelings. Saying words like, "I understand how you must feel" or "Let's work this out together" or "I am going to help you" are a great way to show empathy.

6. Watch your body language.  Keep your arms unfolded. Maintain good eye contact. 

7. Apologize.  It can be difficult to say "I'm sorry this happened." Especially after the person has berated you.  If the person's upset for a good reason, then offer a genuine apology.

8.  Don't give in if it's a safety issue.  Here's an example. A parent has lost their pick-up tag.  When you ask them to go to guest services to get pick up confirmation, he or she starts complaining and says, "Oh, come on!  You know me.  We are here nearly every week."  Since this is a safety issue, you can't give in...no matter how hard they press you.

9.  Come up with a solution. The best way to diffuse an angry person is to work with them to come up with a solution.  Let them know you can work together to find a reasonable solution.  However, their may be times when you simply can't come up with an easy fix.  When this happens,  schedule a time to sit down together and talk more in-depth about the issue.

10. Take time to recover.  Dealing with an angry person can drain you. Take a break afterwards. Explain to your boss what happened and what you did in response.  Let your boss know your next step in the situation and confirm with them that you are making the best move.

Tough situations will arise.  Follow these 10 steps and you will be a leader who knows how to lead in tense situations.

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