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8 Steps to Handle Challenging Behaviors

Posted by Marsha Weisleder on 12/10/18 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

I’m never surprised. It’s the same result, every time. Whenever I teach the How to Influence People and Events workshop, I ask the group to select their top three workshop objectives from the list. So, what’s their top pick? It’s always the same: apply specific strategies to handle challenging behaviors!


Why would I be surprised? Critical people skills are the most challenging to master. They are also the most impactful back in the workplace. It’s a lot easier to teach someone how to press a button than to play well with others.


Luckily, we have a proven 8-step model you can implement to build effective, collaborative communication with others:

1. Assess the situation. Ask yourself if you are truly dealing with a difficult behavior or if you are overreacting to the situation.

2. Stop wishing the behavior will change on its own. (This one is my personal favorite!)

3. Identify the challenging behavior the individual is displaying:

  • The Bully
  • The Know it All
  • The Naysayer
  • The Staller
  • The Yaysayer
  • The Complainer

4. Ask yourself if you are contributing to the individual’s behavior in some way.

5. Detach yourself from the behavior to gain some perspective on the motives behind the behavior.

6. Select a coping strategy or technique you can use on this individual to diffuse the behavior.

7. Decide if you want to deal with the behavior or terminate the meeting.

8. Evaluate the effectiveness of your coping strategy and modify as necessary.


While I can’t deal with every challenging behavior in this blog, I’d like to address “The Bully.” Now here’s something that does surprise me. The bully is alive and well, even today. According to a 2017 National Survey, 60 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying.


Just so we’re clear, a bully is an individual who likes to bombard, makes cutting remarks, or uses threats toward others. They typically display emotions of anger, frustration, and arrogance. They like to intimidate others, want to control situations, and are driven by win/lose situations.


Here are some strategies for coping with a bully:

  • Use only facts and logic so your points are well grounded.
  • Avoid fighting with the other person. Remain calm and ask direct questions such as, “Do you disagree with what I am saying?”
  • Gain the individual’s attention by calling the bully by his or her name.
  • Keep the volume of your voice natural and don’t interrupt.
  • Have them to sit down, if possible. Most people are less aggressive when in a seated position.
  • Terminate the meeting if you feel threatened in any way.


Remember, you can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you react. With these strategies, you can neutralize the behavior and regain your conflict-free workplace. What other tips would you suggest when dealing with challenging behaviors? What strategies have brought you success? I look forward to hearing how you play well with others!


Dealing with Difficult Participants

Marsha has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience. She went on to attend Osgoode Hall Law School and practiced civil litigation for a few years. While working for a company as their in-house legal counsel, Marsha fell into a training position and never looked back! Each day, Marsha brings passion and excitement to her workshops, always encouraging her participants to find their own passion as well. Outside of the classroom, Marsha loves to spend time with her family, travel, and stay active. Of course her main obsession is Elvis! Some people might think she’s a little over-the-top about him, but doesn’t everyone have an Elvis shrine in their home? Maybe not…

Tags: influencing skills, challenging behavior, communication

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