Ed. note: Christian communicators not only communicate the gospel in the materials they produce, but by their lives. As this extremely helpful article by Gayle Hilligoss shows, responding positively and constructively to anger in others and in yourself is an important communication skill to learn.
An assistant new to the church office was pondering if this was a job for her. “I’d rather face major surgery than deal with another angry member,” she wrote. “As a former school secretary I never thought I would feel so inadequate, nor did I anticipate the frustration I’d feel concerning how some people view who the ministry assistant is, what she should do, and how she should do it.”
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you thought that, working in a church office, anger would never be part of the equation. But, then, there it was. Maybe a member’s, a staff person’s, or your own.
Even though the occasions when anger issues may be rare, every church office professional can benefit by knowing how to acknowledge anger and work through it.
Responding to ANOTHER’S anger—
Say someone comes into the office or calls. She is irate over some circumstance—something that was said or done or something that was not said or done. Now she’s unloading her anger on you.
- Identify the problem.Listen without judging; focus on the main issue. Try to understand exactly the point of what is being said. Don’t interrupt. Allow the person to be totally heard. Stay objective; don’t allow yourself to get emotionally involved.
- Evaluate. While you are listening is the time to decide if you are the one to hear this problem. If this is something that should properly be told to the pastor or to someone else, do interrupt and let the person know you are not the one who can best help. It is important for you not to become just a convenient person to whom disgruntled people can vent. You are not responsible for every irritant; you are responsible for yourself and your work.
- Be responsive.Whether you can follow through or not, express empathy with an appropriate comment: “I can understand your concern.”
- Restate.If you are continuing, briefly sum up the issue at hand, eliminating any extraneous details. Ask if you have understood correctly and hear any clarification necessary. Don’t allow this to become a rehashing of feelings. Stick to the issue.
- Ask what you can do. The reason behind investing time and effort in listening is to try to set wrong things right. Often all people want is a show of concern, an apology, or simple assurance that they have been heard.
- Follow through. Agree on what, if anything, will be done. Then show your professionalism by doing even more. A friendly phone call (probably not an email) a day after the discussion can ensure all parties the matter is truly resolved.
Handling YOUR OWN anger, hurt, frustration—
Perhaps the anger is not that of someone else, but yours. It can happen.
- Toughen up your skin a little.There can be thoughtless, insensitive, immature people anywhere—even in church. Sometimes the ministry assistant becomes a target. Just remember, not every unfortunate incident deserves attention. In these situations somebody needs to be the adult. Take that role and don’t bother with the baby stuff. By the same token, be mature enough to confront when it is needful.
- Calm down before you speak up. Confrontation cannot always be avoided, nor is it always bad. But, speaking in anger undermines credibility and diminishes your authority. Be in control of your thoughts and emotions. Prepare before airing a grievance. Know the right person to talk to and what point you want to make. Pray the matter through before involving others.
- Stay on point.Once you meet, don’t let yourself get sidetracked by petty issues. Be clear and concise. Have a higher purpose than just to criticize, get an apology, or feel validated. State exactly what upset you and what you want to make the situation better. Conclude by asking, “How can we make this happen?” In many instances, praying together will heal whatever hurts.
- Exhibit professionalism. Respectfully listen to the other person’s viewpoints, ideas, explanations. Be courteous, even if the courtesy is not returned. If for any reason the conversation turns disrespectful, ask if you can talk again at a later time and excuse yourself.
- Conclude on a positive note.In the best case scenario whatever has brought about your angst will be understood and the situation resolved. At the very least you have made your views known and maintained your integrity. Say a sincere thank you. Feel good about the experience. Learn from it and move on.
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty...” —Psalms 16:32