Dealing effectively with difficult behavior is a skill that
can reap many rewards.
Left alone it will get worse, affect more people and
continue to incur hidden costs for organizations in which it occurs. Most
difficult behavior is accidental, but it can also be the result of
intentional thought. Sometimes it is sporadic and takes us by surprise. At
other times it is ongoing and forms patterns. Difficult behavior takes
many forms. It includes foot dragging, ignoring orders, refusing to talk,
being rude, yelling, ignoring, harassing, and much more.
Most conflict is about needs that have not been
satisfied; often it is a result of psychological needs for control,
recognition, affection, and respect. Problems arise in satisfying these
needs when difficult behavior is rewarded. What doesn’t work? Ignoring the
behavior, responding in kind, blaming rather than problem solving,
labeling the person as difficult and trying to psychoanalyze.
No magic bullets, no panaceas. Changing behavior takes
time, skill and a sense of humor about yourself and life.
Skills for Dealing with Challenging Behavior
1. Disarming Technique find some truth in what the other person
is saying, even if you feel what they're saying is wrong, unreasonable,
irrational or unfair.
Disarming is the most important technique in dealing with criticism, but
the hardest to do. Since most of us are programmed to base our self-esteem
on how much other people like and approve of us, criticism feels like a
blow to our egos. When you agree with a criticism you immediately put the
lie to it. When you argue and contradict the criticism, you prove that
Ex: You're way too rational about every-thing. How about trying some
Disarm: You're right. I tend to be too logical sometimes and don't share
what I'm feeling.
Ex: Your boss says: This report isn't very good. How could you spend all
that time and turn out THIS?
You spent a great deal of effort on the report and feel proud of it.
You're really angry and would like to tell the boss off.
Disarm: I guess I missed the boat on this report, although I worked hard
on it. Could you tell me what you liked and didn't like about it?
2. Empathy put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to see the
world through her or his eyes.
• Thought empathy you paraphrase the other person's words. Reflect or
mirror in a non-judgmental way to grasp what the other is saying.
• Feeling empathy you acknowledge how the other person is probably
feeling, given what they are saying to you. You do not have to agree or
disagree with the other person. Instead you repeat what they said and
acknowledge how they might be feeling.
You might try one of these expressions in a gently tone of voice:
Ø What you seem to be saying…….
Ø It sounds like ….
Ø I take it that you think …
Ø Let me see if I'm getting this right……
Ø I just want to make sure that I understand what you're saying…
Ex. It sounds like you don't think I share my feelings enough (thought
empathy) and are frustrated about it (feeling empathy).
Ex. I take you think that my report isn't good (thought empathy) and
you're angry about it (feeling empathy).
3. Inquiry ask gentle probing questions to learn more about what the
person is thinking and feeling.
1. I "feel" statements you express your feelings with I feel statements
such as "I feel upset/angry/ sad/rejected/misunderstood" rather than you
statements such as "you're wrong" or "you're making me furious" or "I feel
you're making me upset."
2. Stroking you find something genuinely positive to say to the other
person even in the heart of battle. This indicates that you respect them
even though you may be angry with one another.