Dealing with difficult behaviour
Dealing with difficult behaviour can be challenging for both the recipient and the person displaying the behaviour. When at work, we may come across challenging behaviour from a number of sources – our colleagues, our manager, our customers or suppliers.
Consequently, how you manage the difficult behaviour, may be slightly different dependent upon the context of the situation.
For example, if you are dealing with a customer’s difficult behaviour, you may find our tips on handling complaints helpful.
Simply by following these ten guiding principles will help you overcome many of these daily challenges:
- Appreciate and adjust
Ask yourself why this person may be behaving this way and is this typical or out of character. If you do wish to respond to the behaviour, adjust your frame of mind to one that is positive and focused on helping them and you move forward.
- Build rapport and empathy
Show some empathy and understanding appropriate to their behaviour and ‘state’ of mind. For example, if someone is angry, you can calm him or her down by simply lowering your voice. However, responding back in anger is only going to inflame the situation!
Need help? Try our dealing with difficult people training.
- Change the environment
Try physically moving away from the current environment, moving chairs, or giving the person space and time. As a result, the situation will tend to calm down and the negative, or difficult behaviour, you are experiencing will subside.
- Defuse the emotion first
It is advisable to defuse the emotion before addressing the root cause of the behaviour. For example, if the person is angry or upset, they are unlikely to respond as rationally and calmly as you need them to, to get to the root of the reason for their behaviour.
- Explore the root cause of behaviour
Ask them open questions such as:
- "What has led you to feeling this way?"
- "What are your real concerns about this situation?"
Then actively listen, summarise and reflect back their comments to check out your understanding of what they are telling you. As well as calming the situation, this will also help them recognise that you are listening to them and taking them seriously.
- Focus on the future outcome wanted
Focusing on a positive outcome will address their root concerns and ultimately change their challenging behaviour to be more amenable and positive. In addition, check along the way that you have a clear understanding of the outcome they are seeking.
If you are not clear, ask them:
- "What would help us move forward", Or, alternatively…
- "What would make the situation better"
Adopting this strategy will help them consider and convey what they want or need. As well as this, it will help the person move on from focusing purely on the past or the negative aspects of a situation.
- Develop an agreed solution
The agreed solution will be one that both you and the person view as a win/win outcome. Alternatively, you may reach a compromised solution that satisfies the main elements or issues in a constructive way.
- Highlight agreement and next steps
Reaffirm your commitment to addressing the person’s concerns or needs. In addition, provide assurance that you have effectively addressed the issue in full. Thank the person for bringing the matter to your attention.
- Inform others where appropriate
Inform others of the situation or issue to ensure no future misunderstanding occurs, or problems re-surface.
Obviously, where difficult behaviour has occurred due to personal issues, it may not be appropriate to inform or share information with others. If you commit to retaining confidentiality, your credibility in dealing with the difficult behaviour and relationships in general will be at risk, as well as the original trust in the relationship.
- Judge your success and learning
Ask yourself what you have learnt from this situation, what you did well and what you might do differently next time. Every experience in dealing with difficult behaviour will be slightly different, so your ability to adapt to the person and the context of the situation will be vital. There is always something new to learn.
Finally, before implementing any of the above strategies for dealing with difficult behaviour at work, we first need to ‘take a step back’ and think for a moment. In particular, review your own perception and thought processes around the behaviour. Ask yourself “why do we find this behaviour difficult?”
Being clear of your purpose or reason for changing the behaviour is important, as it keeps you focused at all times.
As we may have to deal with difficult behaviour in a range of different work situations, you may find some of our other tips helpful: