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How to Handle Disputes with Volunteers

How to Handle Disputes with Volunteers

Volunteers are often the eyes and ears of an organization. By giving time and expertise, they are personally invested and their feedback is critical for growth. Sometimes, that feedback may come in a form that is more emotionally charged than preferred. It may even become a dispute. 

Responses should not mirror negative emotions and you should listen openly without imposing personal bias. Try to be empathetic by considering the situations from the volunteers’ perspective. Your body language and vocal tone should be neutral, yet engaging. 

Here are some other best practices for navigating a disagreement with one of your volunteer workers.

Stay Neutral 

We think we are being empathetic when we use phrases like: “I can see that you are really angry” or “You are (unhappy, furious, upset, crushed) because…” 

When you try to tag someone else’s emotions with words like unhappy, angry, or upset, that can simply inflame the person further. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using, which will only divert the conversation into an argument. Use empathetic, neutral phrases to indicate that you are listening and doing your best to relate. These can be used without causing a negative reaction because you are not attempting to define the volunteer’s exact emotions. 

Work Towards a Solution

To provide an angry person with your solution may lead to a solution that doesn’t stick (because they are not in the right frame of mind to hear it), or that makes them want to argue with you. Lead the person towards their own solutions by using gentle, supportive questions such as:

  • “What do you think your options are?”
  • “If you were advising someone else in your situation, what would you tell them?”
  • “Are you asking for my advice?”

Remember—It’s Not About You!

We think we are being sympathetic when we tell our stories using phrasing like, “Your situation is just like the time when I was…”, “I know exactly what that’s like, when I…”, or “You’re so lucky; when that happened to me…”

However, when we attempt to sympathize by starting to share a story of your own, you can see the volunteer take a deep breath and sigh with the realization that they aren’t going to be able to complete their story. You’ve now made the conversation about you.

Instead, ask questions such as, “Tell me more about how…” or “When that happened, what did you do next?” It’s best to encourage him or her to discuss the details of their issue to allow solutions to come to fruition. 

With your empathetic and supportive listening skills, the once-angry volunteer can now feel heard and will be more open to exploring mutually beneficial solutions that are best for everyone.

Keeping a good relationship with your volunteer workers is just one step in reducing your nonprofit organization’s liabilities, and running a smooth operation. For more risk management, insurance, and nonprofit leadership information, join VIS today! For just $25 a year, you can access our full “VIS Vault” of valuable information for nonprofit organizations.

About VIS

Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. (VIS) was established in 1972 for the purpose of providing insurance and risk management services for volunteer-based organizations. In addition to still providing these insurance services today on a nationwide scale, we have expanded to provide noninsurance resources for members to manage their risks and improve their operations. By transferring the volunteer risk exposure to our program, we can help you protect your organization. Contact us today at (800) 222-8920 for more information on our programs and services.