You’ve been serving as Relief Society President for just about a year. When you started your counselors were excited to be apart of the team and were overly helpful. Now it seems you can’t get them to help with the simplest tasks. You feel the burden of the calling weighing on you, especially since you are unsuccessful with delegating it to your counselors because they seem to always drop the ball.
Sister Checkedout (RS 1st Counselor): Hello?
Sister Helpme(RS Pres): Hey! This is Sister Helpme. I just wanted to let you know that I will be there in 10 minutes to pick you up so we can make some visits tonight.
Sister Checkedout: Oh…um…right…well I can’t tonight.
Sister Helpme: You can’t? I thought I confirmed with you on Sunday that we would go visiting tonight.
Sister Checkedout: Oh yeah…well I just painted my toenails and they have to dry. Plus, my husband is sleeping so I need to stay at home and make sure the kids don’t burn down the house.
Sister Helpme: um….okaaaay
As leaders, you are bound to run into a situations where someone doesn’t follow through with a commitment and you are let down. So what do you do from here? Release them? Give them another chance? Or…talk to them? Releasing them may be tempting but you will continue to run into similar problems over and over until you are willing to sit down and have tough conversations.
Now the questions is, how do you navigate such a difficult conversation? Here are some guidelines that work every time.
STEP 1: START WITH SAFETY
When starting a conversation to address a broken commitment you run the risk of offending the person because no mutual purpose has been established. This makes the person feel threatened and unsafe. You think: “I simply want to have everyone’s help in the presidency so that we can make all sisters feel loved.” They think: “She just wants to talk to me so she can have a reason to release me and make me an example of what happens to those that don’t do everything perfect.”
If mutual purpose doesn’t exist it isn’t worth starting the conversation. There is a simple skill that our friends teach in Crucial Confrontations called Contrasting. It takes a little practice but can be priceless once you have it mastered. Here’s how it’s done:
First, imagine what others might erroneously conclude. Second, immediately explain that this is what you don’t mean. Third, as a contrasting point, explain what you do mean. (Crucial Conversations, p.94)
In the case of our example above, you arrange a one-on-one interview with Sister Checkedout and then establish safety by contrasting.
Sister Helpme: I don’t want you to think I am being intrusive on your life or that I just want to make myself look like the perfect Relief Society president. I just want to talk about how I can help you feel more satisfied with your calling so we can work together to help each sister in the ward feel loved.
President Frustrated: I don’t want you to feel like I only care about home teaching numbers. I just want to talk about how we can approach your home teaching in a way that will make those families feel loved and supported by the ward.
Bishop Meany: I don’t want you to feel like I am insensitive because I am asking you to pay tithing when you can barely feed your family. I simply want to talk about the blessing available to those that DO pay their tithing.
Once mutual purpose exists in the conversation move on to sharing your path.
STEP 2: SHARE YOUR PATH
Some approach a tough conversation with all guns a’ blazing. “How could you be so flaky by telling me 10 minutes before visits that you painted your toenails? Have you no shame?” Don’t start with your harsh conclusion because you will always be off the mark. Simply start with the facts and only the facts then share how that made you feel.
Sister Helpme: Sister Checkedout, I communicated with you last Sunday that we would do visits on Tuesday and then when I called you told me you were not available that night. This made me feel like these appointments weren’t important to you and further increased the weight of the burden I feel from this calling.
President Frustrated: I talked to you last month and you committed to follow-up with your home teaching families and it never happened. This makes me feel like there is another issues that might be getting in the way.
Bishop Meany: You continue to ask me to help you with welfare assistance but you never follow through on what I ask. This makes me feel like you don’t want to overcome this trial because it’s too hard.
STEP 3: END WITH A QUESTION
Now that you have done all the talking trying to establish safety and to explain your path, it’s time to give them a chance to share their perspective. This is done by simply asking them a question that will allow them to share their perspective.
Sister Helpme: ….Am I reading things wrong? What is your perspective on what happened?
President Frustrated: ….Do you feel like I am missing something?
Bishop Meany: ….Do you think it’s a matter of faith or am I reading into this too much?
Piece of cake, right? Well…probably not. These are not tricks, or short cuts. Rather, they are skills that take time to master. Keep practicing and with each difficult conversation it will get easier.
You aren’t going to master these skills after reading one post. The background of this information comes from the book Crucial Confrontations: Tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. If you haven’t read it you aren’t the leader you could be. Go read it.