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Dealing With Difficult

Three Things to Keep in Mind When You Encounter Difficult Behaviors at Work

When dysfunctional behaviors rear their ugly heads at work – whether we’re trying to get things done, whether we’re in meetings, or whether we’re making decisions – keeping these three things in mind as our first line of defense can be useful.


First and foremost, listen.

It’s tempting to respond or react, and sometimes our reaction can be downright hostile if we are feeling attacked or undermined, or in any other way put on edge. Rather than respond right away, at least take a few moments to listen.

Listening is a multi-sensory experience – close your mouth. Open your eyes and your ears. Still your hands and feet. Calm your thoughts. And try to listen to what the other person is trying to say, or how things may appear from their point of view.


Second, save the person.

Rather than reject the person entirely out of hand, or dismiss them permanently for this particular behavior, stop and identify what is valuable about them. If you’re hard-pressed to find a positive way they contribute to your current environment, then at least take a moment to realize that they are a human being, and as such they have value and worth.

When we are trying to tame bad behaviors, we can be overly tempted to put someone in a box. When safety is an issue, of course separating the person from the situation is critical, but even there, separating the person doesn’t mean throwing them out with the garbage.


Third, correct the behavior.

If the behavior that the person has just demonstrated – hijacking a meeting, preventing you from getting your work done, taking credit for something that someone else did, sandbagging, spinning or stretching the truth, disrespecting others – whatever that behavior is, call it out, and find the appropriate mechanism to stop it.

Sometimes naming the bad behavior is enough, sometimes preventing a similar stage to be set again is necessary, and certainly effective communication is required. As we communicate, we need to choose our words carefully so that we can effectively communicate that it is the behavior that must stop, or change, or be reshaped.


An example.

Let me take a really minor example from my own line of work. I’ve heard of trainers who, when a participant arrives late and is disruptive, make the late participate sing a song or do a dance.

Using the model above, if a participant arrives late to a meeting or a session, the first thing I’m going to do is listen – listen to their words and their tone of voice: are they apologetic, moving discreetly and trying to get to their seat quietly and quickly, or are they brashly drawing attention to themselves in a disruptive manner?

Remembering to “save the person”, if it’s the former, then I often don’t address it at all. Making someone stand in the front of the room and sing or dance, serves to ridicule and call attention to them, in an unproductive way, plus, it wastes more of the collective group’s time. If, however they are calling attention to themselves, and being disruptive, then listening to their desire for the spotlight will allow me to give them an opportunity to share something on topic later.

Before our next break, in an attempt to correct the behavior, a reminder of our group norms to start and stop on time, or some prize, game, or activity that incentivizes them to be back early, rather than late, might be all it takes to stop the lateness from happening again.


What about you? How do you listen, save the person, and correct the behavior? 


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Communication & Collaboration, Leadership & Influence

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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