Published: 4 years ago

How to Defuse a Volunteer

Maybe it’s happened to you: you’re running through a regular weekend service, minding your own beeswax, and things get tense. I’m talking you-could-cut-it-with-a-knife tense. Somebody’s-about-to-blow tense. Shawty-fire-burning-on-the-dance-floor tense. Something doesn’t go as planned, systems begin to break down, communication lines get blurred, and people begin to get ticked off.

But what do you do when the tick-ee is a part of your volunteer team? What do you do with the fuming parking guy or the spewing lady on your seating team? What happens when a kids’ worker or worship band member is taking their frustration out on anyone and everyone within earshot?

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. Maybe it’ll be a volunteer, and maybe it’ll be you. Here’s the process I try to follow when a team member gets their dander up.

Step 1: focus on the relationship. It may be that you’re not the best one to talk to the volunteer involved. Perhaps you don’t have a strong relationship with them, but another team leader or fellow team member does. Consider involving that person first, so you’re not exacerbating the situation with a “Who-do-you-think-you-are?” moment.

Step 2: isolate. Do your best to get the volunteer in question away from others. Especially in the heat of the moment, it does little good to let them continue ranting in a public setting. Invite them to step outside or in a private room. Show them respect by lovingly confronting in private.

Step 3: get the facts and find common ground. Figure out exactly what happened. This is a common leadership problem for me: I assume I know what transpired, when often I only have about 28% of the facts. Ask questions. Let them vent. And whenever you can, use the phrase, “I can understand why that ticks you off. It would make me mad, too.” (Pro tip: only use that phrase if you can say it truthfully.)

Step 4: help them own their side of the error. There are very few situations where any of us come out squeaky clean in a relational breakdown. Did the volunteer understand the real scope of the issue? Was there a miscommunication on their part? Help them see their sin and take appropriate steps of repentance.

Step 5: fix it. Ask the “What could we do differently?” question. Help both the offended and the offender (whether the “offender” is a person, a situation, or a system…and maybe a system that you created) get better. And above all, point all parties to the gospel and help them to see the unity that can be displayed even when we’re not uniform on the way things happen.

Step 6: follow up. Give the initial conversation a few days to settle in. And then call to follow up. Go back to step 1: focus on the relationship. Only this time, assure your team member of your love for them and your belief in them. And again, point them towards their own belief in the gospel. That one phone call will reap huge dividends in your future leadership cred.

What is your step 7, 8, etc? Comment below.


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