How To De-escalate With Angry Listeners

Welcome to the minefield!  Masks on, masks off, closing down, opening up, vaccines, the constitution, fake news, protests, riots, elections, schools…there seem to be fewer and fewer safe places to step these days and we all feel it!

We are entering a season of unprecedented anger in this country and it’s tempting to bring down the loudest, meanest people in our world. I’m a vigilante at heart. I love it when the proud stumble and the underdog triumphs across the finish line! I love putting a big talker in their place. But in all my bad-guy wrangling, when it comes to Christian radio, I’ve learned this: If I teach a listener a lesson, they’ll sometimes teach me a much larger, more painful lesson right back!

Who am I referring to? The people who write to your station about what you’re doing wrong, those who call to say you offended them, you’re too liberal, too conservative and they will immediately pull all financial support. I’m thinking of the people that pour gasoline on your innocent Facebook post and then light a match to it. This type of behavior will only increase for all of us in the days ahead. And I’ve carved out a path for myself based on some huge missteps of the past. Here’s my word for this season: De-escalate.

Anger and what the DJ said

A DJ I worked with answered a call from a listener with a complaint about something he said on his show. The DJ stood his ground, and because he knew he was correct he challenged the caller. It got a little heated but eventually the caller acquiesced and agreed the DJ was right. Victory, right? No, because losing an argument doesn’t feel good. The loser rarely appreciates being schooled and there’s a good chance they will tell a much different story to their friends. The caller will win in the version they tell. At the very least, they may paint the DJ as a bully, and that’s exactly what happened in this scenario.

I’ve learned the importance of de-escalating those situations because I’ve successfully ESCALATED them so many times in the past. After much trial and error, I’ve learned to 1. Listen 2. Repeat back to the listener what they’re frustrated about and then 3. Find something/anything to affirm about them. Usually I affirm their passion or their concern. I don’t have to agree with their accusation to appreciate their passion or their willingness to speak up. They may just be irritated but they might also feel like they’re protecting the faith in some way. De-escalate.

Anger and Facebook

Similar stories play out on Facebook when someone hijacks a post and takes it in an angry direction. I’ve drawn my sword on a few occasions in the past and since I’m fairly good at slicing and dicing with my words, and have done so with precision and accuracy. And even though some people “liked” the flogging, a lot more probably didn’t.

Now, when someone instigates conflict on a post, I either hide it or delete it. Hiding is better because the offender can still see it, but no one else can. Deleting it will sometimes instigate more anger. I’ve found it necessary to keep close tabs on all Facebook posts for this very reason. Nip it in the bud before people of like-mind, jump on the bandwagon and derail the entire post and start a virtual fist fight.  De-escalate.

Anger and Vaccines

A while back, I did a radio break about a boy who was glad to turn 18 so he could finally have himself vaccinated over the objections of his parents. Since my views on vaccines fell more in line with his, it was an easy story to tell. The first bit of pushback I got was through a private message on Facebook taking issue with the story I shared. I calmly replied that it was merely my opinion. They told me I don’t have a right to my opinion. I left it at that and thought it would be the end of it but it was only the tip of the iceberg. What ensued was an organized, angry campaign against the station.  That was not a warm and fuzzy season. As awful as that was, the station had my back, for which I will always be grateful but it also taught me a valuable lesson. My role as an on-air personality is not to teach anyone anything, but to lead by example.  To be a friend, not a teacher. To be a sister, not a mother. And when the COVID vaccine arrives, that will ignite this issue in a whole new way. De-escalate.

Anger and Politics

The day after Barack Obama won the presidency, I commented about him winning the election. I got two calls about it.  One call accused me of being a liberal because my voice sounded slightly happy about the way the election turned out, and a second call accused me of being a conservative because I didn’t sound happy enough about the news. It still makes me laugh. And wow, that example seems like very small potatoes compared to the political climate we have now.

Some people get frustrated if you don’t mention the rioting when you talk about demonstrations. Others say when you talk about the rioting, it detracts from the legitimate protests. Some want the COVID information to be safe, others want nothing said about it at all.

Listeners want you to be their mouthpiece. They want you to be on their side and will try and sniff out what you say to try and determine whose side you’re on. What’s a DJ to do? How can you win? De-escalate.

Anger and Jesus

Thankfully Jesus always has the answer in situations like these. He never led people from the top-down, but always from the bottom-up. Rather than arguing from above, he asked questions from below. And to those who were truly seeking the truth, he spoke gently and humbly. For those trying to trap him, he spoke less or not at all. He was always in control of his emotions.

As a DJ, I’m here to lead people to Jesus, not to argue them into seeing the world the way I do. No one likes to be taught a lesson. People like to LEARN lessons on their own. Jesus led by humble example and that’s the best thing we can do for our listeners, angry or not. Model how it’s done. De-escalate.

Lisa Barry
Lisa Barry Media – On-Air Host

Lisa Barry is a 25-year radio veteran currently hosting radio shows for the XFMedia Network, 98.5 KTIS in Minneapolis, and Spirit 1059 in Austin, TX. She’s passionate about radio education, video production and ministering to exhausted radio DJ’s. She works from a state-of-the-art studio in her home in Naples, Florida where she lives with her husband Ken. They have three grown daughters.    

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