13 Steps for Having a Good Dialogue With Someone

td_3_figures_250  1) Listen to understand rather than listening to speak
2) Ask good open-ended questions (avoid leading questions that make the person feel they are only “allowed” to answer in a certain way)
3) Ask with genuine interest.
4) If it’s a topic you don’t know anything about, state that up front. “I have never met a Mennonite before, so I’m really curious.” (HAHA! I just use it as an example since it’s the one I get most frequently)
5) If you do know something about the topic, don’t overinduldge about what you already know or argue with the person who represents the particular people group that you are asking about (assuming you are not part of the group yourself). The point of the dialogue is to learn from others, not to be a know-it-all-show-off.
6) Pay attention to the other person’s body language to gauge if any question is making them feel uneasy. If so, don’t assume, but rather ask. “I sense that this may be a difficult conversation for you. Would you like to change the topic?” Sometimes you may feel the other person’s awkwardness but to them sharing might actually be rather therapeutic. So ask first. Don’t press them if they answer part way, but don’t want to give any more details than what is already shared.
7) Monitor your own body language – what we say without ever opening our mouths is what typically speaks the loudest.
8) Try not to give into stereotypes. Each person is different.
9) If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, tell them you don’t understand. Don’t nod and pretend like you do. When they say, “you know what I mean?” You can respond, “Sorry, I’m not really sure what you are getting at, but I’d really like to know. I’m trying hard to understand. Could you try explaining it a different way?”
10) Seek to dialogue rather than to DEBATE. Dialogue is an exchange of ideas, debate generally is trying to prove that your view is correct, right, or superior over the other person’s. Sometimes in life and in theology there is actually no ONE correct answer – try as we might to make it so.
11) Avoid proof-texting at all costs. Don’t needlessly bring in a random Scripture verse that shows the person as being in error or sin. If you truly believe the other person is in the wrong, you will win that person over by your love and encouragement, not by ripping them to shreds.
12) Intentionally seek to have your ideas stretched. It is easy for us to stick with what we know, but good theologians read books from a variety of sources. As an academician, I read ultra-conservative and super-liberal books both and I challenge myself daily to be able to articulate the view that I don’t espouse in the most convincing way. Learning where other people stand and what they think helps makes you just a much more rounded person.           13) Unless otherwise explicitly mentioned, always assume confidentiality.  Don’t get into the trap of sharing personal information in the guise of “prayer requests.”  If unsure, ask the other person for permission.

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I know that I need to work on all of these areas myself, but I put this out here as an encouragement to you. I think if we all strove for peace and building one another up, less violence and less conflicts would erupt.

Sunday Challenge #7: Don’t Walk Past

download  There is something in our human condition that makes it easy for us to walk past or ignore people and situations that make us feel uncomfortable.  Many of us have an internal defence mechanism.  We have conditioned ourselves to think poverty, illness, or homelessness could never touch ourselves or those closest to us.  As a result, we become defensive and can easily judge those who find themselves in those very situations we’ve been trying all our lives to avoid.  The truth is that every time I take that extra moment to talk to a rough sleeper or one of my friends who works in a homeless ministry, I am deeply humbled.  I am humbled because I realize that every single one of us is really only one job loss, one mental illness, or one addiction away from poverty and plight.  Everyone on the street has a name, a face, and a story.  Many of them have families.  Yet when they are outside on a cold, windy, rainy day they become reduced to a mere blob.  Someone we hurriedly walk past without glancing up and mumble “get a job” to under our breaths.

The truth of the matter is that I am really no better than anyone else when it comes to this reality.  I also find rough sleepers uncannily uncomfortable.  I sometimes try to force myself to at least look these individuals in the eyes and nod or smile, but even then I fail most of the time.  I try to do better, but it seems there is always this invisible barrier I am unable to cross.

When I first moved to Edinburgh I saw rough sleepers on every corner.  I thought to myself “wow, the homeless problem here is really bad.  It’s much worse than in Canada.”  That is until one of my friends pointed out a hard truth.  It’s not that there are more rough sleepers in Scotland, it’s that I never noticed the ones we had in Toronto.  Going to school and working full time in Toronto for the past 8 years caused these individuals to become a blur.  I walked past them every day and we had an unspoken agreement – I’ll ignore you and in exchange you won’t trouble me by asking for change.  I saw the same people day in and day out, but I never once paused to ask any of them for a name or for a story.

Going to Edinburgh did not entirely solve this problem for me, either, but at least it forced me to start thinking about the issue of homelessness in a different way.  Sometimes we have to move somewhere completely different geographically in order to better understand this worldwide phenomenon.  I still can’t say that I’ve ever made much of an effort to get to know a street person, but a few things in my attitude have shifted.

For one, I now see these people as people.  Last Christmas I began thinking of what it must be like to be on the street without any Christmas cheer.  Since I was living away from my own family at that time and felt a pang of homesickness and a wave of loneliness, I felt that these individuals must feel even worse.  At least I had friends and a L’Arche family to share a ham dinner with.  Some of these men and women had no one.  So I decided the least I could do was give out Christmas cards and chocolates.  I’m not sure how many could read, but I can tell you that the sheer look of joy on their faces when they received these parcels is something I will not soon forget.

Secondly, I started buying the “Big Issue” (a local UK magazine that shares social justice news).  What at first began as disinterested annoyance at the vendor trying to hawk them to me, soon turned into an unspoken expectation.  Every week I would be back.  Every week I would hand over $2.50.  Every week I would get a great read and give the vendor a sense of ownership and autonomy.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve been a bit discouraged that I don’t get to see these vendors as much anymore.  But you can guarantee that whenever I head over to the UK next, I’ll come back with a few issues tucked into my suitcase.

Lastly, I have this unsettled feeling in my soul that there is something more I can do. Before I left Edinburgh I heard of this great opportunity at my church to serve breakfast to rough sleepers.  I am sorry to say I never took them up on this offer.  I only had a few short weeks left and felt it would take too long to train.  But this idea has stuck with me for the past 6 months (including the past 3 that I’ve been back).  I don’t think God is calling me to full time ministry with rough sleepers, but I think Edinburgh stirred something in my soul.  A desire I never knew existed.  A passion to not just live with those who are marginalized during my time at L’Arche, but to embrace all marginalized people even during non-working hours.

This week, I want to challenge you – don’t walk past the people who make you feel awkward or shy.  If you live in a big city, I’m sure you’ll encounter plenty of rough sleepers this week.  You don’t necessarily have to give them money (unless you really want to), but you can at least offer a smile and a wave.  You can validate that man as a person, that woman as a potential mother.  If you live in an area that sells homeless magazines or newspapers, you could consider buying one this week – if for no other reason than to see what social justice issues are facing your community.  If you live in a rural town, poverty might be more hidden, but I can guarantee you that there are still plenty of people feeling miserable and invisible.  Perhaps this week a friend will unexpectedly reveal to you that she is struggling with an addiction or that he is struggling with a mental health issue.  Don’t walk past them (metaphorically speaking).  You don’t need to be a trained counselor, but you can still offer a listening ear and your support. People are not so much looking for answers as they are looking for acceptance, inclusion, and love.

May God guide you on this journey of walking with each other whether on the busy city street or the dusty county lane.


Sunday Challenge #6: Who Can You Reach?

550_101905999 Being short can be pretty tough.  I have been short most of my life which has resulted in my constantly having to pull out a stool or stand on a chair in order to reach the highest shelf.  It got even worse when I moved into L’Arche Cape Breton and someone had the brilliant idea of having a “pot rack” much higher than my grasp could reach.  Thankfully, one of our assistants is 6ft 5 so I got him to help me out on numerous occasions.

Last week I ended off with a thought, that I’d now like to turn into a question: who are the people who have blessed you?  Who, in turn, can you bless?
Who are the people in your life that need someone to reach out to them?  Maybe you know a single mother who is working three jobs in order to provide what little she has to her children.  Or maybe you live in a big city where you walk past rough sleepers every day.  Who are the people in your immediate network that God might be calling you to reach?

Once you have located in your heart a specific person or people group that God is urging you to serve, ask yourself why you haven’t been doing it.  This is not a judgement.  It’s not always about apathy.  Sometimes we simply don’t reach out to others because we aren’t aware of the need until someone points it out to us.

Speaking from my own experience, when I first started getting involved in ministry there are a number of areas I would never have considered until someone suggested them to me.  It’s not that I wasn’t interested in pre-schoolers or pre-teens, but because I had no exposure and no experience with this age group, it never would have come across my radar.  Yet, when some members of my church thought I’d might enjoy it, I decided to give it a try.  I knew that there would always be more experienced people around in case it turned out to be a chaotic mess (as it often is in the toddler room!).  Suffice it to say, I grew in confidence, but I didn’t start out confident at first.  At first, I was a timid mouse, but I grew courage because people around me said “I don’t see you as a timid mouse.  I see your potential to be a tiger – and I want to unleash that potential.”

If you aren’t sure where to look, there are always opportunities to help serve others.  If you’re from a big city, there are even some great websites that can get you started as you look for an organization to be part of.  I found a great position as a spiritual life companion on one of them during my undergrad and ended up with a brilliant internship at a local Jewish nursing home.  If you’re from a more rural town, this might be a bit tougher, but if you’re creative, there’s always needs.  If you’re really stuck, a great place to start would be at your church.  Ask one of the deacons to grab a coffee with you, or nab your pastor after the service.  Explain what’s on your heart and where your interests lie and see if there’s something in-line with your gifts and strengths that the church could utilize.  You can even have a lot of fun with this.  If you’re a writer, it might result in some great poetry that will really bless a young family.  If you’re a painter, it might result in a lovely mural decorating a “boring patch” in the church basement.

Even if age or illness seem to be keeping you largely indoors, don’t despair.  I know of several elderly women who are largely housebound, but who are still doing some really amazing Kingdom work.  Some of them have never felt so alive!  Among other ways to serve, a number of them are involved with quilting blankets for disadvantaged children in orphanages, knitting hats, scarves, and gloves for homeless street youth, and even running a card ministry (where they bless students and young mothers with greeting cards).

Whoever God has laid on your heart to bless this week, I hope that it will be a great adventure!  May God guide, lead, and direct you as you seek to find needs to fill them all for the sake of Kingdom glory!

The Calling Check-List

downloadFiguring out God’s will can be amazing and life-giving, but it also takes some work. It might not come right away, and you might become discouraged. But don’t fear – God wants you in the centre of His will far more than you even want to be there yourself! Sometimes figuring out God’s will is a major life decision (or a broader question): Where should I study? What program should I major in? Should I marry this man (or woman)? Should I go to this church or that one? These are important questions that will likely direct the course of our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives and should not be taken lightly. At other times, God’s will might come in our questioning of the smaller things in life. I have the evening free for the first time in 3 weeks, does God want me to spend it with my family or in a ministry? How would God want me to respond to my co-worker who is giving me a hard time today? How does God want me to drive (you may balk, but I think any of us who have lived in Toronto knows this is a very legitimate question! In fact, I often have to repent whenever I drive on the 401…I’m sure I’m not the only one ).

While understanding God’s will is so personal and unique for each person here are a list of questions you can ask yourself that may help you determine your next steps.

Just to make things a bit easier, let’s focus on the “large” ticket items first. Questions of career path, educational study, or geographical location:

1) What breathes life into me?
2) What am I the most passionate about? What causes do I care so much about that I am willing to go to any length to see them brought to fruition?
3) What ministry do I feel most drawn to? Do I know why?
4) What gifts and natural abilities do I see in myself? How are they currently being used (or conversely, underutilized?)
5) Where do I see the greatest need in my community?
6) What do those closest to me (friends, family members, mentors) have to say about my line of thinking? What skills or abilities do they highlight in me? What areas have other people complimented me for where I really believed them? (this is not about being proud or humble, it’s an honest interior look at ourselves)
7) If I had $1 million right now, which charity or cause would I be most drawn to donate it to? If I chose to keep it for myself, what would I do with it to further the Kingdom?
8) What previous education or professional background can I see enhancing the direction I am currently being led in?
9) What recurring themes keep coming up? (When you hear multiple messages such as through a sermon, through friends, or through Scripture, I think it’s time to pause and take note) [Another way to phrase this: What doors keep opening and which keep shutting?]
10) Do I really have a heart for the people I feel led to serve? How do I know?
11) If I have family (spouse, children) and feel led to move, how will this affect them? (For this one it is crucial to not only pray but also to talk openly with your family before jumping into a new career or location.)
12) What subjects did I excel at in school? (While I do know of a few cases where God has called someone to a field they previously didn’t excel at and therefore I know it’s possible, I also urge you to be practical. I never finished grade 12 math, I’m pretty sure God is not calling me to be an accountant barring some miraculous intervention otherwise)
13) How does my personality fit (or not fit) with the area I am considering? (Again, there are some exceptions to this. For example, many pastors are introverts and yet preach incredible sermons. Many extroverts, like myself, have been employed as writers and editors. Yet, a profession which will unnecessarily drain you and where you feel like you can’t fully be yourself is likely going to lead to professional burn-out later on)
14) If I am considering a specific church or para-church ministry what about the congregation (or organization) interests me? Can I see myself aligning with the ethos and overall vision statement for the most part? Can I see myself agreeing theologically with the main statements of faith? If there are discrepancies, are the areas I disagree with deal-breakers? (For example, I always say as long as I agree with 80% of a church’s or para-church’s theology I am fine to work for them. As a theologian, I realize I will never find any organization where I am 100% in line with everything stated. But here’s where I realize my limits. I am charismatic, but I would still work for an organization that believes Spirit Baptism is not for this generation. That’s fine. I’m even okay when churches tell me not to teach their kids about it. However, if a church outright denied a fundamental area of my faith such as salvation or justification by faith, I would be out of there, no questions asked. These areas differ for each person).
15) Practically speaking, how does this ministry align with my other obligations? If it is unpaid, would I be able to work part time or help raise my own funds? If I have young children, how can I properly balance time with my family? If I am single, how can I still maintain friendships?

Now let’s say we are making a daily “smaller” decision. Here are some questions to ask:

1) If I choose to act or re-act in a certain way, how will other people perceive it? Especially if I work largely with non-Christians who don’t have contact with other Christians, will this further my witness or take away from it?
2) If Jesus were to physically walk into my work today and see me interacting with a client or co-worker the way I currently intend to, what would He say about it?
3) Will cussing another driver out or losing my cool really help me get to the place faster or will it simply elevate my blood pressure? Is it worth it? If I have passengers in the car with me (especially young children) how will my behaviour affect them? What strategies can I use to calm myself down?
4) If I am honest with myself, where do my daily priorities lay? How do I usually choose to spend my time? What can I reduce or give up entirely to make space for the things that really matter to me? What life-giving activities can I presently increase so that I find the most joy and fulfillment?
5) What arguments can I avoid because they simply aren’t worth having? Conversely, when do I need to speak up to defend the people who mean the most to me (spouse, children, friends).
6) What friendships should I invest the most heavily into because they breathe life and we both enjoy each others company? Which friendships should I limit because they are draining, toxic, or always end in arguments?
7) What areas of my faith do I feel like I have compromised on recently? What should I do about that?
8) Who are some Godly and mature people who can mentor me and help hold me accountable? (Here I generally would encourage your mentor to be the same gender as you or else a married couple. This reduces any temptation and makes it all the more comfortable to share whatever’s on your mind with someone who likely can connect a bit better with your struggles)
9) What church groups or other fellowships can I be a part of that would help keep me on the right path but also where I can give back and encourage others?
10) If I am a student, what extra-cirricular activity could I give up to make space for Bible reading and prayer? (By extra-cirricular I am referring to anything not directly linked to your schooling. I don’t necessarily mean basketball or softball practice, I mean things like excessively scrolling Facebook or checking your phone. Is it possible to put your phone on airplane mode for even 15 minutes a day while doing your daily devotions?)
11) If I am in Bible College, Seminary, or studying theology…what extra measures do I have to put in place to make sure the Bible is still speaking to me in a living and breathing way rather than becoming a mere textbook?
12) What growth have I seen in myself? What growth have other people noticed?
13) What seemingly small, unnoticeable act can I use to encourage and build someone else up today? What random act of kindness can I engage in?
14) If I am visiting a restaurant, hotel, or even fast-food chain how can I maintain my integrity rather than looking down on another person. (You’d be amazed but when I was in Edinburgh I noticed that so many people mistreat fast-food workers by being excessively demanding, rude, or arrogant. The same thing happens in Canada, the U.S. and virtually every country I’ve been to. I urge you not to look down on someone who has a job you don’t feel is “as important” as yours, but rather see them as a living human being and realize they have the same needs as you do).
15) If I am walking past a rough-sleeper today, what can I do to lighten the person’s load? (You don’t necessarily have to give money, but you can at least consider a smile, a nod, or a quick “hello.”)

Sunday Challenge #5: Give Thanks!

thanksgiving-snoopy  In hindsight I should have shared this message with you on Canadian Thanksgiving (October 10th), but with extra work hours, a crazy hectic schedule, and my brother getting engaged (kinda a big deal, you know) it somehow got missed.  That is to say that whereas I’ve been keeping up the practice, I realize not everyone has been informed.

This Thanksgiving my house at L’Arche decided to do something unique.  We took out a jar of red kidney beans and decided to add one to the fishbowl each day as we named aloud or in our hearts something we are thankful for.  When you work at a house where the majority of people are non-verbal this does get a bit tricky, and after successfully dodging a few attempts from our core members (residents) who thought it might be a nice, tasty after dinner dessert, I think we have finally got the hang of it.  Naming our gratitudes out loud every day is an excellent way to become more mindful of all the blessings around us.  It helps us to feel more positive especially on days that have been particularly difficult, demanding, or draining.

Prior to leaving for Edinburgh last year, I was sitting in on a Tyndale chapel service and the speaker (a young woman, no more than 21) shared about her experience of keeping a gratitude journal.  This is something I decided to take up when I was abroad.  Sure, there were days when life was wonderful, but there were plenty of other days when life was just the pits.  It was easy to feel homesick and lonely (especially at the beginning when I didn’t know anyone) and during the winter I went through a period of depression because of the lack of sunlight and the high amount of rain.  But through it all, my gratitude journal helped me to really put things in perspective.  When I was feeling down and out about the sunlight, I thanked God for the extra strength and energy my Vitamin D tablets gave me.  When I was annoyed by the rain, I thanked God that the vast amount of rain is the exact reason why Scotland is so beautiful and why everything is always so green there compared to our ugly brown clumps of grass we often get in Ontario.  When I felt homesick, I thanked God for Skype and good technology so I could keep in touch with friends and family while I was away.  When I wondered if L’Arche was actually where I was meant to be, I thanked God for confirming over and over again it was the place He wanted me at this stage in my life.

After Canadian Thanksgiving, I decided that between Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving (November 24th) I would think of 3 gratitudes each day.  Originally I was planning to write them on Facebook, but I declined this thought because I feel like it’s sometimes more meaningful just to thank God silently from the depths of your heart.  It’s not a competition to “one up” your friends or come up with the best gratitude.  Instead, it can be something simple yet profound.  A wide smile from a friend, a pat on the back, or a five dollar bill tucked into your shirt that you just happened to find now.

This week, my challenge to you is to find at least 3 things every day that you are grateful for.  Let them come to your naturally and at the end of the day, consider a way to make them tangible.  For some this might result in a Facebook status or Instagram picture, for others this might be writing your points of thanksgiving down in a journal or notebook.  Another thing you can consider (and that I’ve tried in the past) is to find an unused mason jar and write some gratitudes down on a slip of paper.  You can then see how your jar fills up and read the points out loud whenever you are having a tough day.  You can use other objects as visual reminders, too: marbles, pennies (or other small coins), or even kidney beans!  If you’re using coins, another thing you can think about it how to bless others.  Maybe at the end of the year you can donate the money to a charity of your choice as a way to “pay-back” the community and the world for all of the bounty you have received.

I hope that this week not only will you be richly blessed, but that you’ll also find a way to richly bless others.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you American readers!

Sunday Challenge #4: Thinking Positive – A Week of No Complaining or Critical Questions

i-like-you-2 Okay friends, this week is actually very similar to last week’s theme as the topic still concerns our tongues.  It’s funny how the tongue is perhaps one of the smallest parts of our body, and yet it holds such power.  The old adage goes “it takes years to build up trust and seconds to tear it down.”  Why?  Most of the time the culprit is the tongue.  Words can build up and encourage, but they can also tear down and abuse.  They can heal hurts, but they can also inflict pain.  They can flatter, but they can also falter.

All of us have been guilty of complaining at one time or another.  Sometimes we don’t even voice a complaint itself, but we ask a question that lets people know we disapprove.  Or sometimes we make a mocking statement and our voice gives us away.  This can be really hurtful and damaging to any friendship.  When a friend constantly criticizes you, even in a way that can be seemingly harmless or “all in good fun” it really impacts how we view them and what we then think about our friendship.  The same can be said about a marriage.  If a spouse constantly nags you or belittles you, it affects the level of respect you give to them.  A wife does not want to submit to a husband who consistently sees her as inferior or “second-class.”  A husband does not want to unconditionally love a wife who only sees his faults and doesn’t show gratitude or respect for his hard work and effort.  And when this happens, the marriage falls apart.  Instead of making a beautiful melody, we hear discordant screeches that sound vaguely like alley cats.

This week, my challenge is once again to hold your tongue, but not just that – replace criticism with something positive.  Here’s what I mean.  If you’re married, your spouse might come home after work late.  Maybe you are angry because you think he should have been home an hour earlier.  You had planned a lovely dinner and now your food is getting cold.  The ambiance and romantic mood seem completely wasted.  Instead of lashing out at him and saying “where were you?  I was expecting you an hour ago!”  Hold your tongue, take a deep breath, and think of a positive.  Maybe say something like “Honey, I’m so glad you made it home safe.  That weather outside looked so bad.  Thank you for putting in that extra time at work in order to bring home some more money this week.  I really appreciate having a hard working man in my life like you.”

Or suppose (just to be completely stereotypical) that your wife has just gotten back from a shopping spree with her girlfriends.  Instead of arguing with her about how she “wasted” her (or your) money, compliment her.  Say “Honey, I’m so glad you had a lovely time with your friends today.  That new dress you bought looks absolutely stunning.  I’m so impressed that I’ve married a beautiful lady like you with extremely good taste!”

If your single and you find yourself butting heads with a friend this week, instead of criticizing them, think of all the positive attributes they bring to your friendship and thank them for at least one or two.  Say “you know, we may not see eye-to-eye on this one issue that I know is so important to you, but I’m so glad to have you in my life.  I’ve always appreciated that you’re unique and your own person.  I really value hearing your contributions.  You always give me a completely different way of seeing things.  One that I would never have considered before.  Thank you for that.”  Then change the topic to something the two of you can actually agree on.

Just for this week, for these next 7 days, try your hardest not to complain – not once.  Don’t complain to your boss about not wanting to work on that extra project, don’t complain to your co-worker about submitting those reports a week late, don’t complain to your kids about muddying up their soccer jerseys, don’t complain to your church about the stale bread at the potluck.  Don’t even complain to God for not answering your prayers the way you wanted at the time you wanted.  Every time you are tempted to complain, substitute it with a praise.  I look forward to hearing how God will shape your life and reignite a passionate love in your marriage and your friendships as a result of this challenge.  Happy praising!

5 Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits: The Other Side (Part 2 of a 2 Part Series)

downloadIn my last blog 5 Key Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits which you can access here, I mentioned some key ways that individuals workers can limit the stressful impact working for a non-profit may bring them. In this blog, I would like to take the other side and suggest that there are also a few things that non-profit organizations can do from a leadership viewpoint that will help retain team members and foster morale among workers and volunteers.

#1: Provide Key Feedback Early On

Many people who work for non-profits truly care about the cause they are supporting and thus want to do the best they can for the organization. Thus, many individuals not only desire, but thrive off of feedback. Nevertheless, when feedback is given, it must be weighed carefully and delivered in a way that does not impact a worker’s morale. Remember that if the people you work with are volunteers (and this also includes those on a tiny stipend) they may be more likely to quit and look for other volunteer opportunities and/or jobs which would actually pay them in cash. My advice would be not to shy away from perceived “negative” or “critical” interaction, but to do so in a loving way that promotes the ethos of your organization (especially when you are a Christian charity). Do so in love, as a way to build the other person up to be a better version of themselves, and also mention at least one or two positive things about their character. In my experience of being a supervisor and leader, I have found two approaches that work the best:

The first approach includes a survey. Twice a year, I asked my workers to fill out a survey about themselves and how they felt their role was going. This allowed them to openly state the areas in which they were struggling, felt they needed more support, or were unsure about. If I had a serious concern about anyone of them, I would meet and ask them using an open-ended question format about it. Instead of condemning them “why don’t you work harder? Why are you always late? Why don’t you clean up after yourself in the staff room?” I would bring it about as a discussion: “how do you feel work is going? Are you happy here? What can I do to make it better?” I found that once I opened it up for their own personal response, individuals were often aware and did not hesitate to point out the very things I was going to gripe over. But when it came from them, not from me, they felt more in-control and more likely to change. When they knew I wanted to partner with them, rather than against them, those desired results were brought about.

The second approach that I like to use is the sandwich approach. I will mention a few things that they are doing well and sincerely thank them for it. Then, I will move on to a few key areas of improvement and collaborate to come up with a strategy together (step-by-step ideas and solutions rather than mere complaints). I will end my time by thanking them for being willing to receive the feedback and for being a valued member of our team. Once again, when feedback is delivered in this way it minimizes hurt and maximizes potential and growth.

In my experience, I have also found it best to provide feedback early on and throughout the process rather than waiting until the last minute. I have witnessed the hurt and devastation of many wonderful workers when their contracts were not renewed without warning. Many of them became resentful because they thought that if the organization were to raise these issues to their attention sooner they might have done something to change it, but as it is, they now have no power to fix anything. People do best when they feel in control and empowered of their own decision making rather than slighted or “left for dead” after giving so much to an organization with little in return. That’s why if you see a recurring pattern early on, best to nip it in the bud before it becomes too strong. And if you absolutely must ask someone to leave or you cannot extend their contract, make sure they know specific reasons for your decision, have an opportunity to defend themselves, and have plenty of time to make other arrangements.

#2: Find Opportunities to Encourage Your Workers

Many people crave a sense of belonging and of feeling “part of something.” This is why it is of utmost importance to foster a genuine team spirit and commitment amongst your volunteers. Encourage them in what they are doing by giving compliments. If you see someone going above and beyond in their work, mention it. If you see them staying much later than usual, offer to buy them a quick coffee before you leave. If this is generally the person’s character – where they are always going far above and beyond, recognize it. Perhaps repay them with another random act of kindness, buy them a Starbucks gift card, or make a cute personalized card to show your appreciation. Let them know how much they mean to the organization… don’t let them leave feeling invisible and unnoticed.

#3: Say Thank-You

Within non-profits it is paramount to genuinely show appreciation to your workers. Since workers are often not being compensated monetarily (and if they are, it is usually in the form of small stipends) intrinsic rewards must come from other places. While some Christians dismiss their need to be validated and respected thinking that they should just do things without expecting anything in return, the truth is that we do need some incentives to keep us going. This is not wrong or bad, it is simply the way things work.

That’s why THANK YOU may just be the two most powerful words in the history of non-profit organizations. Find ways to thank your co-workers regularly, but make it genuine. Not over the top or too often lest it seems “fake.” Some examples could be: a simple line at the bottom of a company email saying “while many may overlook your contributions, rest assured, I do not”, giving out Christmas cards or small token gifts, recognizing exemplary years of service (such as having a “Silver Tea” for those volunteering 25 years or more), or even posting sticky notes around the office that will make people smile.

#4: Work Towards Providing Stability in Scheduling

A lot of people (whether volunteers or paid staff) have extremely busy lives. Although work may be a huge part of that, it is not the only thing. Therefore, having some type of consistent scheduling allows the person to know when they can engage in other activities and have a “life outside of work.” Work together with your team to create a solid plan, then stick to it as much as possible. Periodically check-in with your workers to see if their days off still work for them or if they need it switched. Try your best to be flexible with specialist appointments and family emergencies. If your organization works on a “rotating-schedule”, please try to give your employees at least one weekend off a month (as the majority of social interactions happen on weekends). And if possible, allow time off for religious services and holidays which may be important to your employee.

#5: Allow Your Team Members to Also Give You Open, Critical, and Honest Feedback

In my experience as a leader, I have found that teams work best when there is a sense of ownership, approachability, and clear communication rather than when things are dictated from the “top-down.” People want to know that their opinions and feelings are being valued and listened to, not just that management is asking to tick another box off the list. One of the best ways that I have discovered to do this is to allow my team mates to write up reviews about me. Twice a year (at the same time as I ask them to do self-reflections, I also ask them to fill out a short survey about me). To rank me. Am I also following my job description? Am I providing what they need to thrive? And if not, what would they like me to pay more attention to? Am I providing enough training and if not, what type of training might they need? When people see that their leader is also being put into a vulnerable position, they generally become more relaxed about receiving their own feedback. While I have not always received positive feedback from my workers, as much as possible, I have tried to improve on the areas that seem to be a general trend, and in most cases my second yearly report comes back with much higher scores.