I still clearly remember an argument that Sara and I had early in our marriage. She had been having a rough day and during a ride in the car, she decided to emotionally vent her frustrations. Based on what I was hearing, I quickly came to several conclusions and had several solutions to help her with her problems. As soon as she finished talking, I eagerly offered her several of my ideas that would surely make her day. I was new at this, but I felt like I was shining in my role as a husband. A few moments passed and the look of Sara’s face didn’t reflect the feelings I assumed my helpful advice would solicit.
“What?” I asked.
Obviously frustrated, Sara replied, “I didn’t ask you to solve my problems.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied.
“I just want you to listen to me,” she stated.
This was a very important lesson learned more than 15 years ago, a lesson that has helped me in situation beyond just my marriage. I learned to begin asking, “Are you telling me this to help you fix something or just for me to listen.” It’s one of the best questions I’ve ever learned to ask.
Sometimes people just want to be heard and if they feel heard, they’ll give you their trust.
I know that a trait most Children’s Pastors have is this desire to fix what is broken. We arrive on the scene and fix things. We put out fires. We look for ways to improve. Although our heart means well and our desires are in the right place, some people experience us completely differently. They see our ideas and changes as harmful and unsolicited. Parents LOVE the experience their kids are having and the last thing they want is a change to what they know. Volunteers have a rhythm or maybe even helped to establish the current procedures. A change means more work for them or even making them feel devalued. When met with resistance from parents and volunteers, we get frustrated. We think, “don’t the understand that I’m just trying to make things better? Why are they making such a big deal about this?”
90 percent of the time, the change is really needed and the best thing a leader can do is often forgotten or neglected. Sometimes the leader simple needs to stop, pull a leader/parent aside and stop talking – and simply listen.
If we give them the space to talk, they’ll unpack their fears, their concerns and their ideas.
Their premise might be entirely wrong.
Their perspective might be flawed.
Their understanding of the bigger picture might be lacking.
But that doesn’t matter right now. The best thing you can do in this moment is listen to what they have to say. When they feel heard, they’re far more likely to trust you. You don’t even have to do what they say.
Sometimes we just want to feel like someone considered our opinions.
Recently I met with a handful of volunteers who had significant concerns about a coming change (a needed change). We gathered these volunteers, unpacked the situation (bigger picture) and proposed what needed to be done. Then we asked for their thoughts. Honestly, the decision had already been made, we just wanted these volunteers to have an opportunity to speak into the needed change.
Two things happened as a result.
- The volunteers made some amazing suggestions that we will incorporate into the change. We needed their perspective.
- We earned trust with this team. There was a feeling from the staff that we would lose some of our volunteers over the proposed change. I’m convinced that every one of these volunteers is in it for the long-haul. Several volunteers came to me at the end of the meeting and said the same thing.
“Thank you for listening. This is the first time I can remember someone from your level in the church actually coming to us and listening to our concerns. You don’t know what that means.”
Just listen. It goes a long way!
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