Dealing with Difficult Volunteers

Difficult volunteers. They are in every church and every ministry.

I'm sure a few faces are popping into your mind even as you read this. 

Difficult volunteers antagonize. 

Difficult volunteers consistently criticize. 

Difficult volunteers try to bring your joy level down.

Difficult volunteers frustrate you.

Difficult volunteers think they have all the answers.  They think they know more than you and everyone else in the world. 

Difficult volunteers aren't willing to listen to advice or if they do hear it, they think it doesn't apply to them. 

Difficult volunteers can be time consumers.  They try to monopolize your time and don't pick up on signals that you are extremely busy.

Difficult volunteers can be narcissistic.  Everything is about them. 

Difficult volunteers are whiners.  They are constantly complaining.

Difficult volunteers are negative.  They tell people the reasons why your new idea will not work.

Difficult volunteers will affect your behavior if you let them.  They can cause discouragement.

So what should you do?  How can you deal with difficult volunteers?

1. Be kind to them.  Let's be honest.  If you are like me, my first reaction is to want to be difficult right back.  When someone is difficult we want to immediately defend ourselves.  Slow down your emotions.  Pause and remember your best response is to be kind to the person. Stay calm.  Kindness will help deescalate the situation and bring calmness to the situation.  Don't try to argue with the person.

2. Use a low, calm, even monotone voice. Raising your voice or speaking disrespectfully to the other person will add fuel to the situation. Don't try to talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath and then speak.

3.  Listen.  Everyone wants to feel heard.  Focus on what the person is saying not on what you are going to say next. 

4. Try to find out why they are being difficult.  Is it a character flaw they struggle with?  It could be a blind spot for them and they don't even realize what they are doing. Help them see it. 

Their negativity may be rooted in a need they have.  What is this person really trying to gain? What is this person trying to avoid?

Say, "tell me more so I can understand better.”

5. Explain to them how their attitude is affecting you and the rest of the volunteer team.  This best happens in a side conversation instead of in front of everyone. 

Pull them to the side and privately share with the person your thoughts on the situation.  Here's an example.  You are in a meeting and the person who is difficult starts interrupting and telling everyone why they don't think the new plan or idea will work.  

After the meeting you can say something like this...

"In the meeting we had this morning, I felt like you were extremely negative about the new program we are considering using.  You even interrupted several times. When you do this, it affects the team in a negative way." 

It's hard for a difficult person to change if you don't tell them what they are doing. 

6. Stay positive.  Don't let their attitude affect your attitude as the leader.  Don't let them steal your smile. Even if they are negative, you can reflect respect and dignity toward the person.

7. See the gift.  Even in the most unfounded criticisms, you can find something that will help.  Look for what can help the ministry.

8. Help them grow.  If they are open to coaching, you can help them improve. Get to know them better and invest in them. 

Follow these steps and you can deal effectively with difficult people.