Dealing with Complaints

One of the paradoxes of our existence is that we have to communicate to live and yet we are usually not very good at it. So much of the conflict and friction in our lives comes from misunderstandings and miscommunications. We say one thing, people hear something completely different. We try not to say anything at all and we’re betrayed by our body language. One of the basic axioms of life is, “We cannot NOT communicate,” and yet sometimes life would be a whole lot easier if there weren’t all these other people around.

This communication problem even affects the church. As much as we try to be positive, upbeat people, even Christians are prone to bouts of doubt, discouragement and disillusionment. And that can lead to one of the most insidious and damaging viruses we know: complaining. I know many churches that have been undone by parking lot rants and post-Board meeting grumbles that spread like wildfire and burn the congregation.

I’m very grateful that I have not experienced anything like this at Crestwood. I believe this is a healthy congregation that seeks to live out our call to be in authentic community with each other, speaking the truth in love and offering grace and forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean we’re not prone to the same kinds of behaviors as anyone else. So I’d like to be proactive and give you a few tips to dealing with complaints. My hope is that you never have to use these techniques in the church, but if you do you’ll be prepared.

Abraham and Isaac are both Elders in the church. Abraham has noticed that Isaac is getting a little long-winded with his prayers at the communion table. Rather than talk to Isaac about this, Abraham complains to Jacob, who uses a four-step process to deal with Abraham’s complaints.

Abraham: “I tell ya, Jacob, I’m getting a little tired of Isaac’s prayers at the table. Sometimes they feel like mini-sermons! He really is getting on my nerves. Someone should say something to him.”

Jacob (using Step 1): “Abe, have you talked to Isaac about this? I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing from you directly.”

Abraham: “No, I haven’t. He probably wouldn’t listen to me. Jacob, you should talk to him.”

Jacob (using Step 2): “I think he should hear this from you, Abe. I would be glad to go with you so that you could talk to Isaac directly. Would that help you?”

Abraham: “No, no. I don’t want to cause trouble. You have a better relationship with him, Jacob. Can you just tell him I’m not happy with him?”

Jacob (using Step 3): “I can tell him how you feel, Abe, but I would like to tell him that these thoughts come from you. Do I have your permission to use your name?”

Abraham: “I’d rather you didn’t. I don’t want Isaac to know it was me.”

Jacob (using Step 4): “Then I’m sorry, Abe. I can’t help you with this situation.”

Using these four steps to dealing with complaints will help keep you out of the middle of conflicts and will encourage people to deal directly with their issues. We can model for others what it means to communicate in healthy and respectful ways. I hope these steps are helpful for you. If not, please come talk to me directly!


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