How to Take Negative Feedback from a Parent

“Hi Kenn, I need to talk to you about last night’s teen life event. Can you call me?” Ever get that phone message in your voicemail? I love working with parents, but that voicemail always sends a chill down my spine and immediately gets me asking “what could they possibly want? And what if it’s bad feed back?”

Negative feedback is not something we should fear in ministry. I’ve actually found it to be quite useful. And, here are the tips you can follow to make it useful in your ministry:

  1. Listen: When I get feedback, I tend to have the habit of starting to mentally defend myself and come up with reasons why the feedback I’m receiving is wrong. Stop doing that because it isn’t helpful. Genuinely try and listen to what the parent is saying to you. I find writing down notes is helpful in this. Remember, the reason the parent is giving you feedback is because they want the best for their teen. And, this is what you want as well.
  2. Ask good follow up questions: Get specifics. Let the parents tell you their story, but ask questions to fill in the story. If a parent tells you someone was picking on their kid ask who. If the parent tells you a CORE member said something negative in small groups, ask what it was. If a teen didn’t like the game you played, ask why not. Asking goof follow up questions help you get the whole picture because, regardless of your parents’ intentions, they are telling you a story they heard second hand or from their own perspective.
  3. Ask yourself what the parent is really telling you: Some people are straight forward with what they are asking you to do. Others are not. I once had a parent tell me her daughter didn’t like coming to youth ministry because she didn’t know anyone. By asking her some follow up questions, I learned it really wasn’t the daughter who had the issue, it was the mom because she was a single mom feeling overwhelmed and not having the time to drive her daughter. It’s also important to realize that some parents are just calling to complain and maybe God is just asking you to be a sounding board for that person.
  4. Ask the parent how you can help: I’ve often found parents sometimes view the Church as another institution asking things from them. They want to know what you want so they can get on with their busy lives. Getting feedback is a great chance to shatter that illusion and ask them what you can do for them. Even if a suggestion sounds crazy, write it down and pray about it. Some of the best ideas I’ve had in ministry have come from parents giving me negative feedback. For example, I once had a parent tell me that my weekly email blasts were late and inconsistent. I was mad at first until I realized she was right and I had to do something about it.
  5. Ask the parent to get involved: Sometimes the suggestions parents make are a lot more work than they realize. It’s the perfect opportunity to get them involved. The most common complaint I get is that their teen doesn’t know anyone in the youth group. When a parent tells me this, I almost immediately ask them: “would you like to help me change this by joining the CORE team?” This question can also help you discern what the parent is really asking you because some people do like to call to just complain. But, if they’re serious, they will consider rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.

What other suggestions have you found helpful in taking negative feedback about your ministry?

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