Why Families Seem Ruder Today and Some Tips on How To Respond

Funeral Directors are increasingly distressed about being treated rudely by families. This rudeness often causes practitioners to lose control of vital conversations at critical moments.  Industry vendors know that Funeral Directors can be very rude as well.   In my opinion the reasons both are rude is fundamentally the same.

And Yes! Funeral Directors can be very rude when they want to be.

This is very important because it is causing a lot of Funeral Directors to lose control in conversations with the public when they should be in control (in control as opposed to taking control).

For several years now we have seen an increase in dysfunctional families in the arrangement conference.  THEY are not in agreement so we struggle to reach consensus.  Emotions run high and we wear ourselves out trying to keep a lid on the scene.

The reason things get out of control is that we are more focused on the content (making arrangements and making them meaningful) and we fail to understand we are equally responsible for influencing the conditions (how people are interacting, body language, etc.)  The one thing, manifested in a myriad of ways, that throws that monkey wrench every time is fear.  So what you are looking for is signs that people are feeling unsafe.  Many funeral directors are relatively adept at this.  It is the new levels of rudeness that is taking them off guard.  They make the mistake of taking it personally rather than seeing it for what it is:  A defense mechanism.

We don’t need to go into all the reasons for feeling unsafe in an arrangements conference or at a funeral.  But people tend to react to this feeling in one of two ways: Silence or Violence.  It is up to you, dear director, to be alert to either of these and recognize and respond to them early.  Rudeness can be classified as violence most of the time but it has a silent mode and that’s the one funeral directors employ so often.

Your job is to create and periodically restore a sense of safety to the conversation.  The first step is to recognize the signals and then the second is to kick your brain into gear and bring everyone back into safety.  Sometimes that takes backbone.  If some one is cussing you out it might be a good tactic to suggest another funeral home might serve their needs better.  Many times humor can work better.  Try to stop talking, look directly at your troublemaker and say something silly like: “Was that your cat I stepped on on the way in?”  and then, of course, shut up.  Maybe suggesting a time out will bring people to the realization they are behaving like children.

Silence and violence have three forms each:

Silence

  • Masking
  • Avoiding
  • Withdrawing

Violence

  • Controlling
  • Labeling
  • Attacking

So what does this have to do with why funeral directors can be rude?

Funeral directors tend to be nice people.  They avoid conflict and confrontation like the plague and hate delivering bad news.  Often they employ rude techniques when dealing with vendors they don’t want to work with. Delivering bad news takes them out of their comfort zone.   They miss appointments, keep people waiting, forget to show up, never return phone calls.  They hope the guy will get the message without realizing the damage done to their own reputation.  If you work long in funeral service you get used to this and realize it is just part of the game we have to play.  In life you have to take the good with the bad.  What most funeral directors don’t realize is that a polite “No” is a kinder and gentler act than the avoidance / withdrawal behavior so often manifested by some of our best practitioners.  Yes, I realize there are vendors who are overly persistent but that just means you need to be a little more assertive yourself.

P.S.  You and your staff can master handling “High Risk” conversations in a course I can deliver for your staff at your funeral home:

“Conversations That Matter”: How to Build Consensus and Relationships Through Positive Communication

Comments

  1. Alan, Thank you for your thoughtful blogging, you make a difference!

    I have experienced the silence of a family member during arrangements, but normally only if they don’t agree with another family member. It has always worked well to turn to the silent member and ask them directly if they agree with what is being discussed, “does ‘such and such’ sound OK to you?”. It will open up a whole new viewpoint that is relevant.

    The only time I have experienced rudeness from a family is when we ” royally screwed- up” or were lacking in explaining relevant options clearly. Both of these issues are directly connected to the frustration of the customer and the perceived value of our services. Thank goodness it has been a long time since any such experience. We have pushed hard to offer what our public seems to want; fair competitive pricing for the best service available. (Easier said….)

    In today’s world I believe this means embracing Simplicity, Cremation, Being creative with the life lived, and Offering the most advanced technology online and in the chapel, giving the family tools to share and preserve their history. We want them to be comfortable with our price, and wowed by the experience, everytime.

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