This article on dealing with community disappointment is part of a series of articles designed to help chamber pros know what to say when they’re faced with difficult conversations. If there’s a hard conversation in your future or a difficult question you’ve received that you would like us to cover in the future, please drop us a line.
2020 has turned out to be one crazy year, right?
So much of our lives has been turned upside down and as much as we try to make the best of it, some of it is just downright disappointing. Most mental health professionals will tell you it’s natural to feel some kind of loss for what “should’ve been.”
But that doesn’t always make it easier to adjust.
As a chamber pro, you’re likely not only handling your own disappointment but that emotion coming from (usually) the more vocal parts of your community as well. If you’ve had to cancel events or take some in-person events online, you likely have heard a lot of feedback. Some of it may even be caustic, hateful or upsetting.
This article will give you the tools and tactics you need to deal with community disappointment.
Coping (and helping others cope) with Community Disappointment Because of COVID
The following will help you address the needs of others while coping with your own.
Recognize the Loss
While our minds all know that the cancellation of an event is much smaller a deal than a loved one in critical condition, many people tend to get aggravated with the little things because those are the ones they can lash out at.
It’s a whole lot more difficult to figure out the mysteries of life and death than it is to bemoan a favorite event being canceled or changed.
However, it’s important to still recognize these things as a loss. People think about them and plan their calendars around events. It’s also likely that your event is only one of many events, including graduations and weddings, that have been canceled, postponed, or altered in some way outside of their expectations.
Your event isn’t why they’re screaming at you.
They’re screaming at you because you are the one who’s there or who answered the phone. People are carrying a lot of residual loss right now and you are likely just the unfortunate one to be in the path of their venting.
Recognize their loss.
Identify with it. Show them empathy. Let go of the idea that this is about you. This is about six months’ worth of disappointment. When you frame what you’re saying with that in mind, there’s likely to be a better outcome for both of you.
Trying to put things in perspective for them.
While it’s true their favorite event being canceled is not nearly as sad as someone’s loved one remaining incapacitated in a hospital, avoid making these correlations for them.
Deep down, they know this to be true but they are complaining about the one thing they can affect. You also don’t want them to feel guilty or shallow over how they are feeling. Bringing these correlations up will do that and shut down communication between you both.
Acknowledge and Help
Community disappointment can feel extra hard because chamber staff members love to make their communities happy. And now they are sad and upset. Acknowledge how they are feeling, provide empathy, and then list a benefit or something to look forward to, if possible.
Acknowledging and redirecting.
Try something along the line of “I’m sorry you’re upset about the Labor Day Member Appreciation Picnic being canceled. We are too. It was one of our favorites to be able to shower our members with the appreciation they deserve. It was very upsetting that we had to cancel it to comply with health orders but we are happy to tell you we’re working on a very special secret member event that won’t be affected by COVID. We can’t wait to share it. You’ll find out more on Monday in the newsletter.”
Making promises you might not be able to deliver on.
Don’t get yourself in a bind to promise another in-person event later this year. We simply don’t know when health ordinances will be lifted and even when they are, if they will stay lifted. It’s best to talk about things that wouldn’t be affected like virtual events, surprise deliveries, or online educational opportunities.
Taking Time for Yourself
Knowing your own mood is essential to dealing with others in an effective manner. Yesterday, I was out in the Florida heat at noon with a mask on. I had an appointment at a business and there was a sign on the door telling me to use a side gate (but no mention of where that was and not visible from my location) or call them for access. I dialed the number and it went to voicemail. I was hot and I was aggravated.
Then my son asked me a question or maybe he complained about the heat. Whatever it was he did, I exploded in anger and said things like “I don’t want to hear it. Stop it.”
Not my finest moment.
The point of this story is to not allow your own bad mood and disappointment to color the conversations you’re having with members.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially if they blindside you when you’re in a bad mood. If that happens, do your best to excuse yourself from the situation by…
Mentioning that now is not a good time.
Make sure they understand that their concerns are valid ones and you would like to speak with them. But you want to give them your undivided attention and not be swayed with the matter you’re working through right at that moment. Most people will understand.
If it fits your personality and you’re able to regain some control, explain that you are having a very difficult time at that moment and you’re afraid that any conversation or resolution that occurred would not have the best outcome. Theirs is the type of thing you would like to focus on at a different time for a more beneficial outcome for all.
Discounting their concerns.
While you want to politely reschedule with them, don’t brush them off without offering some reason and don’t give them the absolute reality of just not wanting to deal with their bad mood on top of your own.
Create Something People CAN Get Excited About
What do you do when your child is disappointed over something? You likely distract them with something else. We talked about this technique above but you could go a bit further in handling community disappointment and create volunteer opportunities or an event that will help people give back. One chamber helped organize a drive-in food drive for those in need.
Creating something people can feel good about can give them something to focus on aside from their own disappointment. It can also make people feel better about their own predicaments.
Help them buy in to a different, exciting or engaging opportunity.
When someone is complaining about a change in the chamber driven by COVID, turn the tables on them and say, “I have always appreciated your candor and your passion. We haven’t begun talking about this yet but we’re in the planning phases of a food drive. There are a lot of needy members and community members right now. I wonder if you might give me your opinion on our concept. It’s just in the initial planning phase but I know how much this member appreciation dinner meant to you and this may be the best way we can show members our appreciation right now. What do you think?”
Everyone likes being thought of as a passionate straight-shooter and now you’ve given them an outlet for their voice to be heard in a constructive way.
Over-promising on something you’ll have difficulty delivering on.
Don’t go straight for the “Here, you can take on this responsibility” That can be overwhelming. Instead, ask for their feedback. Those who help with general planning are more likely to back it up and support it in the future.
2020 has disappointed many of us in big ways and small. Chamber pros have had to deal with a lot of disgruntled and scared members. Understanding where they’re coming from can help you diffuse some upsetting situations.
And maybe, just maybe, after this is all over, you’ll have an even stronger bond with your members because of how you navigated these difficult conversations.
Also in this series: