Dear Goodwill Gail,
We have a member in our Auxiliary unit who constantly believes nothing will work, complains about the unit’s service projects, and is just a downer in general. She’s also in charge of corresponding in our unit newsletter. We are a successful unit in terms of recruitment, but I’m concerned the new members are peeved by the pessimism and will want to transfer to another unit – or worse – not renew their membership. How do I approach this member about dialing back the gloom?
Dear Positive Polly,
Numerous books have been written on the power and benefits of positive thinking, so kudos to you for wanting to generate and maintain a healthy energy in your unit.
Negativity can go viral faster than chickenpox. As volunteers, we’re strapped for time, and tensions can flare during really busy ALA events or activities. If we allow Negative Nellies to compound the situations, things can go south fast — ultimately affecting those we serve.
I recommend a one-on-one conversation between you and your fellow unit member. Inappropriate or irritating behavior becomes a much larger problem because no one privately engages that person in a conversation. In this case, your unit member may not be aware of the vibe she’s sending. A private conversation may be enlightening and all that is needed for her to see the ramifications of her actions.
Here are five steps to help you address conflict with a private conversation:
- Identify the source. Take a step back from your frustration for a moment and try to assess exactly what you find inappropriate or irritating.
- Find an appropriate time and place for your private discussion. This step may be the most important. Don’t choose a time when you and your unit member may be tired or rushed to do things. Make sure the place is a neutral setting that allows for a quiet conversation.
- Use a good-natured approach. You want the member to listen to you, so start in a positive manner, such as, “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I know we both are interested in the good work our unit is doing to help veterans.” Be sure to use a pleasant tone rather than a critical or accusatory tone. How you communicate — even with body language — is as important as the words you choose.
- Identify the member’s behavior and your emotion. Don’t generalize; be specific about when and where the negative comments happened. Say things like, “Last week in our unit meeting, in front of the new members who attended, you complained four times about our upcoming service project, and they noticed.” Remember: She may not be aware she was exhibiting a negative attitude in front of others. Next, be sure to express the emotion you felt. Use a phrase like, “I felt nervous that our new members were upset with what they heard” or “I think they felt marginalized.”
- Build an agreement that works. Focus on the present and future. Determine what you want to accomplish after the conversation. Ask yourself, “What will make me feel like the conflict is resolved?” You may propose a solution and ask for the other person’s agreement, or you may want to brainstorm together until you find a mutually agreeable outcome.
Be open-minded and flexible. You may learn information during the conversation that changes your entire perspective. For example, you learned in your discussion that the loss of a loved one has made her cynical and coping daily with a woeful outlook on life.
A private conversation to address someone’s behavior does not have to be long. Spend more time planning the conversation than actually having the talk. A positive outcome is more likely when you have a plan. Even if the other member does not respond at the time how you would have liked, she will have heard your concerns. Hopefully, having a private and candid conversation leads to a better understanding and a more harmonious unit to help serve the ALA’s mission.
In the Spirit of Service Not Self,
Have you had a conflict within your unit and need recommendations on how to reach a resolution or compromise? Goodwill Gail is here to help members resolve issues within the American Legion Auxiliary. Send your questions to pr@ALAforVeterans.org with the subject line “Goodwill Gail.” We’ll create a pen name so you can remain anonymous.
This article was first published in the February Auxiliary magazine.