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Section 17
Complaints and Saying "No!"

Table of Contents

A. What happens if they voice a complaint?

The worst of my fears… never did materialize in any of my Volunteer Recruitment Talks.  But I always had a fear in the back of my mind that a complaining family member may be present in the audience of my Talk.  So, just in case a complainer is present at your Talk, you need to rehearse your answers to complaints voiced during your Volunteer Recruitment Talk.  Here is mine.  Let's say a member in the group says, "Well my mother lost 49 pounds while she was in your nursing home!" or "I hear nursing homes are where people go to die!" or "Those places are too depressing for me to visit!"  Let's break these questions into a three-part answer. 
The first is a complaint about poor nursing care, which is clearly out of your realm of expertise.  So the way I might answer this one is to…

First empathize: If possible use the question-asker's name.  Genuinely say "I can see, Sue, that you are  (upset, concerned, angry, sad, or what ever you feel she is projecting)…
Second set a limit as to what you know and what you don't know, "Sue I am not familiar with your mothers condition."
Third refer her to the expert, in this case your Director of Nursing, "I would suggest that you might consider calling Martha Crane our Director of Nursing and talking with her.  (Validate your DON by saying the following.)  I know our Director of Nursing, Martha, is interested in the care of the residents.  Perhaps she might be able to provide you with some further information or answers to your question.”

Note what I did not do is… tell her to a.) call her relative's doctor and I did not tell her to b.) file a complaint with the CMS Department of Health.  Also I did not reference her to Housekeeping, for example.  I referenced her to the Head of the Department towards which she had a compliant or concern.  If she would have had a complaint about the food, who would I have referred her to?  The Dietary Supervisor, right!  Thus you clearly need to be familiar with the first and last names of all department heads before your Talk.  If you have been there for a while, this is a no-brainer.  But if you are new, you can really lose credibility and your professional image in a heartbeat by saying, "Contact the Director of Nursing, I think her name is Martha."

Department Name

Department Head's Full Name

Department Name

Department Head's Full Name

















The Business Card:  your best friend
A good way to add authenticity to your referral to a complainer, and to avoid appearing to give the “brush off,” is to have a stack of business cards in your pocket or on the table with the items you are going to show the group.  On the business card have the facility name, facility phone number, and facility address on it along with, of course, your name and title. 

No business cards?  From Staples you can buy blank business cards that are perforated and can be run through your facility laser printer.  Have a pen handy in your pocket or on the table with your items. This way it will only take you a few second to write the name of your DON, Dietary Supervisor, Administrator, etc. on the back; hand it to the complaining audience member; while asking, "Who else has a question?"  Do you see how providing the audience member with a concrete course of action, you concluded the interaction in a professional manner without looking like you are trying to gloss anything over, shuffle something under the carpet, or dismiss the person who has the complaint? 

What happens if an audience member asks a question to which you do not know the answer? 
Say, “I don't know.”  For example, what if someone says, "Well I hear orange juice is bad for blood sugar in the morning.  Do you give the residents orange juice in the morning?"  Well as it happens you arrive for work at 9:00 a.m.  So you have never been in the facility for breakfast.  Thus you have no idea what they serve for breakfast.  The way I would answer this one would be…
1.  Set a limit and empathize: State genuinely, "Gosh Mary I had never thought about that.  You know, in activities I don't get involved is planning the resident menu.  I really am not an expert on diets for blood sugar problems.”
2. State what you do know, "I do know that doctor's orders are strictly followed for each resident's dietary needs." 
3.  Make a referral,  "However, the name of our Head Dietician is Helen Miller.  I have a card if you would like to call the facility and talk to her."  As you make this statement, reach for the pen and a business card, either from your pocket or the table behind you.  She may say, "Oh no that is okay I was just curious."  Or "Yes, I would like to talk to her."  You write "Helen Miller" on the back of the card.  As you give it to her, to keep the flow going, you calmly and confidently ask, "Who else has a question?"  Do see how you stay professionally in control of the group?  Now you try.  Write below three of the worst questions that you feel an audience member at a Volunteer Recruitment Talk might ask you.

Questions I may receive that are my biggest fear




Now using the formula above, or one that fits your communication style better, come up with an answer to your three most-feared questions.
1.  Set a limit and empathize: Write what you would state to set a limit genuinely.  Say something that shows empathy or understanding.  You may leave the empathy part out if it does not feel right.  It's better not to try to sound genuine or empathetic at all if it is going to come across as phony, sarcastic, or placating.
2. State what you do know: If appropriate, write a concrete fact that you know about the subject, like "I do know Dietary follows doctor's orders."
3.  Make a referral:  What will be your exact words to refer this audience member to the appropriate Department Head?  Don't forget to include both the first and last name of the Department Head. You might copy this, as well as any other exercises in this Manual, into a notebook to expand upon the space provided, to facilitate practice, and to encourage revisions as actual Volunteer Recruitment Talks are given, and better answers are formulated.

Reply to my Question #1 above

1.  Set a limit and empathize:

2. State what you do know:

3.  Make a referral: 

Reply to my Question #2 above

1.  Set a limit and empathize

2. State what you do know:

3.  Make a referral: 

Reply to my Question #3 above

1.  Set a limit and empathize

2. State what you do know:

3.  Make a referral: 

Now, of course, if you do give the name of another Department Member, when you get back to the facility make a Bee Line for that staff member and tell him or her that Sue from the XX Church Group may be calling to ask about resident weight loss or the serving of orange juice for breakfast.  That way that staff member has an opportunity to organize his or her thoughts. No one likes to be blind-sided.  However, my experience has been that ten times out of ten… not nine times out of ten, but ten times out of ten they never follow-up and call the facility with their question.  In short, people will ask a question when it takes no effort to get the answer, but rarely, if ever, are they motivated to take initiative away from the group setting to ask their question.  Chances are, if they were that motivated about the weight loss or orange juices they would have called the facility long before your Volunteer Recruitment Talk.  Do you agree?

What if they voice criticism about your Activity program?  Then you have to know firmly why you are doing what you are doing and don't hesitate to say that it is an area you would like to develop.  For example if they say,  "My father loves fishing.  Why don’t you take him on a fishing trip?"  I would answer that by saying…
1. Emphathize or validate:  State, "Yes, Sara, a Fishing Trip sounds like a good idea.  When we take the residents out of the facility we need to take a group.  I will see if other residents are interested in fishing."
2.  Shift it back to them, "Would you be interested in researching places to fish?  Would you perhaps like to volunteer for that or another outing in the future?"
(You know how that goes… be careful about bringing up ideas in a group, because you may end up being responsible for them.)
3.  Seize the Opportunity:  State, "You know we have a Fourth of July parade we bring residents to each year.  I will circulate a sign-up sheet in a minute and if you are interested in taking residents on an outing, write that you are interested in volunteering for an outing after your name."

What if referencing isn't appropriate?
Let's talk about the second complaint stated at the beginning of this Section, "I hear nursing homes are where people go to die!"
First empathize:  "Yes, Susie, I know a lot of people feel that way."
Second Seize the Opportunity:  Now she has provided you with an opening you could drive a truck through.  You state, "That is why we have and Activity Program at XYZ Convalescent Center.  I have a full time assistant, but residents know we are paid staff members.  It really means a lot to many of our residents that people from the community care enough to stop by for a visit.  At the end of my talk, I will be circulating a Sign-up Sheet for those of you who would like more information."

The third complaint stated at the beginning of this Section was, "Those places are too depressing for me to visit!"
First, Empathize and Set a Limit:  To set a limit separate the term "depression" from being confused with something "wrong" at your facility.  State, "Yes, Linda, I know how you feel.  XYZ Convalescent Center is a healthcare facility and oftentimes a resident’s health declines due to the aging process.”
Second, Seize the Opportunity:  Here is how I would subtly give a pitch for volunteering. State, "For me, it makes me feel content knowing I can provide a positive experience in their day.”
Third, Acceptance:   Accept her feelings as valid.  State, "But I realize visiting a Convalescent Center is not for everyone.”  State, "That is why we have an Activity Program at XYZ Convalescent center.  (repeat from above) I have a full time assistant, but residents know we are paid staff members.  It really means a lot to many of our residents knowing that people from the community care enough to stop by for a visit.  At the end of my talk I will be circulating a Sign-up Sheet for those of you who would like more information."

B. When You Have to Say “No”
What happens if an audience member asks you to do something that either you can't do, or don't want to do?  Many of us have a hard time saying, “no.”  But from time to time, we all have to say it.  If this is a challenge for you, with some practice, you can improve.  You can say,  "no" in such a way that lets you feel more comfortable. . . and makes other people less upset.  Over the years, I’ve tried saying "no" in a variety of ways; some have worked, some have backfired.  Here are a few of the techniques that have worked especially well for me.

• “No, but. . .”
Go from the particular request (which you can’t do) to a general contribution (which you can make).Example: “No  I really can’t organize your school fair for you. But I’ll be very glad to pass the word around the facility to see if someone else would like to do that.”

• “I’d like some time to think about it.”
Remember, you don’t have to answer on the spot. By taking some time to consider the request, you defuse the situation— and also gain the option of saying no in an email or by phone, which is a whole lot easier than saying no in front of a group.

• “Thank you for thinking of me. It’s just not possible for me to do it now.”
The above is a particularly graceful way to say no. Another variation: “I’m so flattered you thought to ask me. However, it’s just not possible for me to run in an election to be an officer of your club right now.”

• “I can’t, but these folks.. .”
If you can’t do it, at least you can recommend others who might help in some way. Example: “I’m not the person who creates the menus for the residents . . . but I meet with the Dietary Supervisor every week in a Care Plan Conference. I’ll be glad to pass along your ideas about that brand of mashed potatoes.” Then at a later point in time, follow through with that individual by saying, "I won't forget to talk to Mildred, our Dietary Supervisor, about those mashed potatoes."  As mentioned in the first part of this Section, should the situation seem to warrant it, reach for one of your business cards, write Mildred's name on the back, and suggest she contact the Dietary Supervisor with her ideas.

• “Not now, but I can next year.”
This is a positive way to handle a request, (providing you’re sincere about doing their request next year).

• “I am [state your problem] and I need [state your priorities].”
Perhaps the group may ask you to join them on an outing this weekend.  Be honest and direct about your situation: "Gosh, that does sound like fun, but I have already made plans for the weekend."  And then just stop talk­ing. Resist the temptation to keep justifying your position. Your silence will send a loud message.

Chances are you will not be put in a position of having to say "no" during your Volunteer Recruitment Talk, but if you have a problem telling others no, you might review the above prior to your Talk to keep these concepts fresh in your mind for easy reference.  For practice, write the last time you had to tell someone "no" at work.  What did they ask and how did you set a limit?  If you wish you would have handled it differently, write the response you wish you would have given.

Request to which you need to reply, "no."


Response that sets a limit:


Forward to Section 18
Back to Section 16

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