You just got the call.
A parent is on their way down to the church office, asking for some time with you immediately. They aren’t happy. They aren’t bringing you gift cards to the Apple Store “just to say thanks”. Your mind races with what ifs and you twitch nervously thinking about the ramifications the pending conversation will have on your job status. You quickly make sure your resume is up to date and before you realize it there’s a knock on the door. It happens, parents get angry. Sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes it’s not. Either way…there’s the knock on the door. Here are a few thoughts to help navigate even the toughest parental conversations:
Set the tone with prayer
You don’t need small talk — you need God’s Spirit to fill the room. A quick moment of prayer centers everyone and reminds all that we’re playing for the same team. It also typically diffuses the rehearsed opening line that might be a blasting salvo headed your way.
Make sure they are heard
This is not the time to talk. Let them share their pains, frustration or outright anger. Fight your natural defense mechanisms and let them vent. Maybe make a quick jot here or there so you can remind yourself of some important talking points or clarifications when it is your turn.
Own whatever piece of the problem was your responsibility
Usually another perspective sheds a ton of light on a situation, but too often a fired-up parent isn’t willing or ready to hear another side of the story. A good idea might be to simply own your piece of the problem and directly apologize. Once the conversation is starting to show signs of completion make sure you help it end well. If it is heading into the perpetual repeat mode, you might have to jump in and cut it off altogether.
Consider the “feel, felt, found” response:
If appropriate, the “feel, felt, found” response is often a great way to respond without letting your emotions get the best of you. It goes like this: “Mrs. Hothead, I totally understand why you would feel the way you do concerning the increased cost of camp. In fact, other parents have felt the same way. I have found that even though camp is expensive, it is one of the best investments you will ever make. And because I am convinced of that, I want to help make it affordable by allowing a payment plan.”
Plan so it doesn’t happen again
Reassure the parent that you will do your best to prevent whatever situation ignited their anger from happening again (obviously, this reassurance varies from scenario to scenario). Make sure you share the conversation and the plan of action from here on out with your supervisor, too. Good communication from you always beats them hearing it from someone else…supervisors don’t like surprises. Unless it’s that time Josh surprised Kurt by paying for lunch (okay, that has never happened, but it sure would be a nice surprise).
Dealing with angry or disappointed parents is part of the youth ministry gig — in some ways it is a good thing: at least they cared enough about their students, faith and church and respected you enough to come talk to you directly. You would have to be a little bit sick in the head to actually look forward to such conversations, but such conversations don’t always have to make you sick in the stomach!
This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.