Our volunteer was late . . . again. The client she was supposed to meet with had been waiting 20 minutes and needed to catch the bus soon. At 21 minutes after, the volunteer came crashing in, breathless, throwing her coat halfway on the rack.
“Sorry I’m late!” she announced. “I lost track of time.”
Our client rolled her eyes. See, this wasn’t the first time our volunteer had left this client waiting . . . not to mention others. It was getting to the point where our clients were scheduling with other counselors (who really couldn’t take on any new clients) just to avoid this one volunteer counselor. The whole reason we had trained her in was to help with the client load, but her lateness was just adding work to our already teetering load.
The problem was that, when she was here, she was perfectly delightful. She was a great listener, encouraging, and a team player. But, her lateness was causing problems all over the office. After two warnings, our director had to do the hard, right thing: fire the volunteer. I know, apostasy right?
We often talk about the difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness is being friendly to a person’s face in order to protect your image. Kindness is doing what is best for the other person and the organization, which means addressing problems that are eroding the mission. Nice is about you. Kind is about them. Vibrant nonprofits practice kindness.
In his book, Entreleadership, author Dave Ramsey outlines five steps for addressing conflict successfully. We all hate confrontations, but being kind means saying the hard, right thing. When you need to take disciplinary action at your nonprofit, a good reprimand should be these five things:
- Short– Briefly address the problem. Don’t rant for a half an hour about what’s bugging you or what other people are complaining about. Objectively summarize the behavior that is causing issues.
- It should be uncomfortable for everyone– If you love chewing someone out, then you should NOT be the one in charge of discipline. As our parents used to say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” In that attitude, you’ll approach the confrontation fairly and humbly.
- Attack the problem– What is the behavior that needs to change? Attack the behavior, not the person. Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, suggests using a “Reprimand Sandwich.” First, praise their good qualities, then hit the behavioral problem directly. Conclude by reminding person of their value.
- Be private– Do not reprimand the person in front of another staffer or volunteer. This ends up shaming the individual, not correcting. Have a private conversation with the person in question.
- Be gentle– Your temperament should be tender as you go into the meeting. If you’re still fired up about something, take a day to cool off before you address the problem.
Conflict is hard to address, which is why most of us would rather be nice than kind. However, if you’re sacrificing the effectiveness of your mission for the sake of the comfort of an individual–everyone will be hurt in the end.