There are few things that give me that uneasy feeling more than the flashing voicemail light the morning after a Youth Event. Things didn’t go well, you might have brought the students back an hour late from the amusement park, lost your temper with a kid, allowed a trout to be thrown across the gym and land in the church’s air intake vent (this happened to me). These things happen, and they can really put a bee in the bonnet of a parent or colleague. Here are 4 proven ways to diffuse a hostile and angry person or situation.
Get the Facts Straight: If you know in advance that you will be speaking with an upset parent take the time to speak to several parties involved, get a timeline, who was there and how it happened. If you are uncertain of the event, or worse did not know that it happened, things are not going to go well. Parents want to know that you are in control and aware.
Genuinely Listen: The person that has called you has likely rehearsed in their head what they plan to say, how they planned to say it and the three points that they wanted to make. If you interrupt them, this will take them off their script, and likely make them more upset. Listen intently, subtle verbal cues (if on the phone) or physical (no crossed arms) will tell them you care about what they have to say. Repeat back to them the facts that they have presented so you are clear on what they are concerned about.
Own it: If you screwed up, admit it. Nothing and I mean nothing will diffuse a situation like saying, ” you are right, it was totally my fault, and I am sorry.” You admitting fault will catch them off guard, passing the buck or blame shifting will only make them more irrate. Once you have taken the blame, tell them what you are going to do about it. Have a plan for making it right and be sure to see that it happens.
Affirm the Concern: In the midst of the anger and potentially yelling, find something to affirm the person who is upset. It could be that you appreciate that they cared enough to come down, or that they are involved in their students lives to a point that they would find out what happened and come talk to you about it.
Angry parents are inevitable in Youth Ministry, but knowing how to deal with them and getting them back on your side quickly will help. Show Grace always, and avoid getting upset yourself.
Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church.