In the thirty – four years that I have been a manager of volunteer engagement I have never come in contact with a “bad” volunteer. In the 56 years I have volunteered through my church, the Royal Canadian Legion, Rotary and numerous other community organizations I have never faced a difficult volunteer. So, when I hear volunteer engagement managers ask “how do I manage a bad or difficult volunteer” I become befuddled.
Volunteers by their nature are good people, reaching out to better their communities, to help some person less fortunate than themselves or they are trying to add value to their municipalities’ infrastructure (i.e., a new arena, a new park etc.). How can we ever find a bad volunteer amongst members of our society who want to do something good for humanity?
In my experience as a volunteer engagement manager and as a volunteer, when someone is behaving badly something has gone wrong within an organization. A conflict has emerged in an organization that undermines the good work that volunteers are doing. A conflict can show itself in many ways; finger pointing by laying blame on someone else, hurt feelings, a diminishing team effort and backing off from a volunteer commitment.
The easy way is to figure out how to get rid of a volunteer who is behaving badly; we rationalize by fixing blame on a particular person who is usually at the centre of the problem. Fixing blame on someone and then exiting them from a volunteer activity resolves in having to contend with a “bad” volunteer in our midst; or does it? Frankly, I think this method is the destructive way to go. Getting rid of a “bad” volunteer means we have a “win – lose” situation. We should be aiming for a “win - win” solution. We exit the so called “bad” volunteer, who is trying to do what all volunteers have as their central-focus, enriching the lives of others and their communities. It is not a matter of how do we manage a volunteer who is behaving badly, that strategy is too narrow in scope. The real dilemma here is how do we manage conflict with our volunteer programs so we end up with “win – win” solutions to the difficulties we encounter amongst each other.
To manage conflict it is important not to put the problem on any person’s shoulders. The problem must be shared by all and to resolve difficult matters it requires an entire organizational effort.
Conflict in an organization seems to be a fact of life. Interpersonal clashes can emerge when people within a volunteer program have different goals and needs. These discords can lead to intense personal animosity. The fact is conflict doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as it can be resolved effectively. Furthermore, resolving a conflict can lead to personal and professional growth. If conflict is left unresolved it can lead to negative outcomes. Personal dislikes the breaking up of a team, wasted talent as people leave their volunteer assignments are all examples of negative outcomes resulting from an ineffective conflict resolution process.
The first step in resolving a conflict is to acknowledge a problem does in fact exist. The problem needs to be clearly defined in order to see what is actually going on. The second step in conflict resolution is to identify options that could lead to a peaceful resolution and a win – win situation. Keep in my mind there is usually more than one way of resolving a problem; choosing the right alternative amounts to what is more likely to give the team a win – win state of affairs. In other words the ideal option in resolving a conflict would be when no one loses. What is also important in resolving a conflict is to invite everyone impacted by the problem to the table to negotiate a happy settlement.
To deal with a problem in a positive manner it is imperative that the discussion is courteous, non-confrontational and the focus is on the issues not on individuals. As long as people listen carefully and explore the facts, possible solutions to the issue(s) are likely to emerge.