responding to difficult behaviour

If you feel underpowered when responding to difficult behaviour, you are not alone. Most of us make some common mistakes. Though these are natural, they usually don’t help, and they mean that the relationship stays on rocky ground, instead of creating a mutually satisfying platform for discussion.

When you’re dealing with difficult behaviour, there are four things to know about our responses, before we launch into tackling anybody else’s.

Do something different

This is a simple, basic rule when you meet behaviour which persistently spoils your plans, obstructs, or in any way hinders you. 

‘Doing something different’ doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive, abusive, or in any way radical.

The key is to aim to break the pattern of interaction between you. You can’t control them, but you can control yourself. Be guided by these four points and you’ll shift the dynamic.

The first is, how do you listen, listening is an underrated skill, I always think of it as the primary skill in conflict resolution, in negotiation, in relationships generally. If you asked people what’s made a difference to them when they have had an uncomfortable conversation and when they have been on the receiving end of an uncomfortable conversation. They will very often tell you, that they felt that the other person heard their point of view.

The second point is how do you ask questions, most of us are asked what I would call lazy questions. They are not really thought out; we have not really structured them in terms of the outcome we hope to get.

Questions show interest, which is good for rapport-building. They also enable you to find out more about the situation. to my thinking. So, you really need to ask questions before you launch into anything else. 

Listening and questioning are really the basic foundation of good communication.

My third point relates to your expectations. What do you expect to happen as a result of the interaction? Your expected outcome (which may be unconscious) will influence your behaviour on a conscious level. If you expect to have a challenging conversation, then don’t be surprised if you find challenge in the conversation. If, on the other hand, you are looking forward to an interesting conversation, where you learn something new about the other person’s motivation, you might have a completely different experience.

The fourth point is about knowing when to end the conversation. I’m sure we have all been involved in conversations that have continued much longer than they need to have done.

For example, perhaps you have discussed somebody’s ’difficult behaviour’ with them, it was probably uncomfortable for both of you. Do you really want to give them the opportunity to come back and snipe at you in an attempt to save face or claw back some self-importance? Knowing when to end is an important part of the strategy.

A great start

Follow these four pointers, and you’ll be off to a great start. From my experience (with thousands of people in my workshops), they are a game-changer. 

Therefore, the four things we really need to know when responding to difficult behaviour are: listening, asking questions, understanding our own expectations and, above all, being able to end the conversation when it’s over, and not letting it rumble on to some unknown destination.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.