I know you never have to deal with negative people at your church-—right?
Unfortunately, many church leaders are familiar with the challenge of dealing with a team member who has a negative spirit. It can mean death to a team so it’s an issue that needs attention before it gets out of hand. As Proverbs 17:22 reminds us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”.
Here are three simple steps to transform negative behavior:
Step 1 – Identify the negativity.
Negativity comes in many forms. In addition to complaining, some negative people will display an attitude of pessimism, doubt, mistrust, or sarcasm. Often negativity will be acted out as critical behavior towards people or programs. At this stage you’ll need to figure out what may be the cause, or source, of the negative attitude. Reasons for negative behavior may include being overextended in volunteer responsibilities, doubt about a staff leader’s ability, feeling unchallenged, or even insufficient recognition. Set aside time to connect with your team member, in private, and listen for clues that might identify a reason. Use reflective listening and feedback to see if you can identify the source, and then work on some action steps toward a solution. Negativity may be caused by some legitimate concerns or issues that you’ll want to address.
Step 2 – Contain the negativity.
It’s important to contain your volunteer’s negative attitude so it won’t spread to the rest of the team. I was part of a ministry team where a negative leader was so damaging the only solution was to disband the group and start over! Don’t allow negative leaders to control a group. This may involve removing someone from their leadership in order to change the group’s tone. This is where a team covenant, or agreement, can come in handy. A covenant spells out the ground rules of how your team will work together. A discipleship pastor recently showed me his core team’s covenant which states their purpose: To maintain a positive attitude of joy and to enjoy the opportunity to serve together. If you don’t have a covenant-—now is the time to write one!
Step 3 – Establish a positive vision.
Here’s where your leadership is vital. They say a smile is contagious-—so is a positive vision. Set the tone with your own positive behavior and affirm the positive attitude of your volunteers. In his book, “Managing Workplace Negativity”, Gary S. Topchik reports that 90% of employees want leaders to notice their efforts and recognize them. Volunteers also want the positive reinforcement that they matter to you, the church, and God. Recast the vision to your volunteers and communicate the blessings that result from their efforts. Be the cheerleader to keep everyone on the right track as you face the challenges. Celebrate your successes and rejoice in the positive changes the ministry is making in the lives of others.
Our attitude is the one thing we can change about ourselves. Help your volunteers improve their outlook and you’ll retain their service longer and grow a stronger ministry!
[Editor’s Note: “Defusing Difficult Conversations” is one of the training modules discussed in the Equipping Institute – Level 2 training on how to become an equipping leader!]