6 tips for Facing the Angry Mob.

By SCN Blog Contributor Julie Jakopic

There have been numerous stories about members of Congress facing unexpectedly crowded and angry Town Halls. But these kinds of experience are not unique to members of Congress. They happen in communities and organizations every day. In my own experience running public hearings about where to place a new substance abuse program or leading a team through a challenging reorganization, meetings with a large group of unhappy or angry people don’t have to be scary or a mess. There are some practical strategies to make them productive.

1. Just stop. Take a deep breath. Treat the event as an opportunity to learn more. Be curious and calm.

2. Set ground rules. Make sure you create a physically safe space and a predictable process. Create orderly sign-ins and enough space for attendees to sit. Let people know that you will respect them and that their respectful behavior is expected. Create a process for people to be heard. Have people speak one at a time for an agreed upon amount of time (2-5 minutes at most). Even if that means you will be there for an extended amount of time, do your best to stay until all are heard. If you can’t, be clear about when you will have to end and what the other options are for reaching you.

3. Make it a listening session, not a deciding session. You listen to them. They listen to you. But decisions will be made later. Be clear that you are there to gather ideas and information. Let those in attendance know how and when you will be getting back to them with any decisions. Choose a date that gives you enough time to figure out your position but give them a specific date and meet that date.

4. Stay in the moment and avoid being defensive. Whatever you may have said before, your goal is to share information of what is and hear their response. Say thank you for the input. Answer questions simply and honestly without making any promises and ask questions only for clarity.

5. Make sure you have a way to get back to everyone and to identify each speaker and their comments. Translation: you need to ask people to sign in and provide their contact information so that you can get back to them. You also need to have someone to take notes so you can follow up with speakers as needed.

6. Get back to people when you said you would. If you agree with them, say so and thank them for their support. If not, tell the truth and why you have a different perspective or decision and thank them for their input. If needed, create an opportunity for follow up.

While it can be a scary experience, it can also be an enlightening one, filled with options you might never have thought of on your own. Looking back, when handled well with openness and respect, it has almost always been a positive experience.