Monday, June 20, 2011

Wedding coordinator chronicals - Dealing with difficult people

Life is a learning experience. Over the years I have learned a thing or two about dealing with get-in-your face kind of people, i.e. The kind of folks that have no problem screaming or humiliating other people in a public setting - even a religious one! An incident this weekend made me think about all that I have learned from past experiences with difficult people and how to deal with it all.

1. Some people can get very nasty in stressful uncomfortable situations. I remember when I worked for an orthopedic surgeon's office people would be very rude and short-tempered when they called for their first appointments. Usually that was because they were in a lot of pain from a recent injury and they were a little scared about it. While I couldn't do anything about their medical condition, I found that if I just let them talk without interrupting, we got on better. I remember one woman with a particularly bad fracture screamed at me on the phone when she called the first time. But by the end of her treatment months later, she brought ME a parting gift and gave me a hug. Just being a peaceful presence seemed to be enough.  And so it is with helping people prepare for their wedding.  I like to let the bride or whoever I am working with just talk.  It's cathartic for them and I learn a lot too about what they want for their wedding and how I can help.

2. But sometimes we don't have time to build up a relationship like that. In some once-in-a-lifetime situations like weddings or funerals if someone says something unkind or even hostile, it's more important to just get control of the situation. While it may be tempting to shout back or get in a snide comment, that probably will just exacerbate the situation. In this instance it is better to just stay calm and focus on the situation and how to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.  Remembering the church setting is very helpful for this too as in turning the other cheek.

3. Put yourself in their place. Sometimes in the medical profession (even medical secretaries and receptionists) get so use to the routine of their position that they don't see how strange and new it is for their patients. I think this can happen in the wedding and funeral professions too. Part of the reason people freak out is because they aren't sure what to do. I try to talk to them in a calm, reasonable voice, speaking clearly but not condescendingly, remembering that these are important events and I don't want an altercation with me to be the one remembered 10 years down the line!

4. If it looks like you just can't get along with a certain person (and it happens - you can't make everyone happy!) then just try to steer clear. That might not always be possible, but I found especially in social situations like weddings that if I tried to get my work done around a troublesome individual I could avoid confrontations. That's harder to do if the difficult person is the bride, groom, maid of honor or one of the mothers, but at least when I've identified one of them as challenging I can more easily get into "girded loins" mode and be prepared for whatever is going to happen next.


5. Review the experience and your reaction to it so that you can do better next time. Years ago when I was first asked to be the wedding coordinator at church, I  had a difficult bride that wanted to stay in the bridal room until the last possible minute. So I had everyone lined up and mostly down the aisle before I went to get her. Surprisingly for me, she burst into tears and we waited 5 extra minutes to see if she was even going to go down the aisle! Since then, even if they want alone time, I keep giving count downs to show time, and I get the bride out of the room a lot sooner. From other experiences I have learned to give pre-emptive instructions i.e. don't bring alcohol in the church - don't even have it in the parking lot, ladies should wear underwear under their gowns, little kids might not want to go down the aisle no matter how much everyone else wants them to etc.

6. I' ve also learned that people care about details. They want to do the pomp and circumstance right! I am still surprised at the detailed questions I get sometimes that no one has asked before.  Surprisingly little of that type of information is available on the wedding shows, but I actually learned a lot by watching the Royal Wedding and also by reading books of ettiquette. When people ask I try to have an answer.

7 And if I don't have an answer I try to at least sound authoritative like I know what I'm talking about! Then I can look it up for sure next time.



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