Course Description: Handling Difficult Behaviors

Target Audience

Managers, supervisors, executives and individual contributors who want the interpersonal skills to deal with disruptive or counter-productive, anxiety-provoking, undermining, or other “difficult” workplace behaviors, and to more skilfully handle people who “push your buttons.”

Course Objectives

  • Understand how “difficult behaviors” in others keep us from doing our best work, and what we can do about it
  • Experiment with new approaches to a wide range of challenging situations: negativity and blame, handling resistance, passive-aggressiveness, aggressive-aggressiveness, dealing with someone who is excessively critical or confrontational … and others.
  • Learn strategies for handling situations when your buttons get pushed – how to respond, rather than react, and how to “unhook” and get back on track.

Course Contents

  1. Purpose of the Course, Learning Objectives, Participant Outcomes
  2. Identifying Difficult and Challenging Behaviors: what are your buttons?
    Dealing with difficult people begins with identifying and defining the behaviors that are so exasperating. Get together as a group and brainstorm what you find most disconcerting. What pushes your buttons, personally?
    Once the exact behavior/trigger is known, you can begin to devise ways to respond when your buttons gets pushed. At first, the key will be to respond in ways that do not throw “gasoline on the fire.” With practice and awareness, you can systematically slow down the reaction until it becomes a response, a choice, so if you want to, you can still say “I hate it when you do that!” or you can choose to say something else. Either way, when you are “at choice” you won’t give away power in the likely event that they happen to “do it” again.
  3. Strategies for Dealing with Opposition: Resistance Reducers
    We’ve all heard someone state emphatically “It will never work,” or “We’ve already tried that and it’s impossible.” If you encounter opposition, resistance reducers will help you remain curious about what the other person really thinks and knows. Surface-level statements or knee-jerk resistance phrases are usually a disguise or a mask trying to obscure the more important or useful information underneath. Resistance reducers keep the door open long enough to find out, while simultaneously building rapport and a sense of cooperation. For example, see what happens if you ask someone who seems convinced that a project is doomed or impossible: “How can we work it out so that … even though you think it will never work … we can still get the full benefit of your knowledge and experience?” These tools serve as an important reminder to welcome and use resistance, not resist it. The information and shared understanding that comes from using Resistance Reducers lowers stress and discomfort and allows for greater rapport and constructive problem solving.
  4. Interpersonal and Conflict Management Styles
    Sometime the difficult behavior reflects interpersonal, leadership, or conflict management style differences. Do you work with people who are unresponsive “avoiders,” competitive “authoritarians,” overly agreeable “accommodators” or verbose “collaborators”? People who can’t stand conflict often look to compromise immediately, even if the results are less than optimal. What are the pros and cons of each style and which ones are most and least familiar to you? How can you build a bridge between your preferred style and theirs? [Optional 2-hour segment: Style Assessment Instrument.]
  5. Blame to Aim: Dealing with Negativity
    How to distinguish between a problem-oriented and a goal-oriented approach to any situation. How to contain and harness negativity toward shared goals. What to do if someone gets stuck in negativity.
  6. Working Effectively with Anger and Hostility: Drawing the Line
    “Confrontation” is a loaded word, bringing up uncomfortable associations like hostility, criticism or even blame and punishment. Confronting someone can be as straightforward and undramatic as simply speaking directly, openly and honestly about what you perceive, and comparing that to what the other person perceives. No big deal. What makes confrontation emotionally charged?  How we confront.
    There are skills and strategies that few of us learned when we were growing up, to neutralize the emotional component of dealing head-on with a broken promise, mistakes and inconsiderate or disrespectful behavior by others.  
    It turns out that these same skills are key to dealing effectively with anger and hostility aimed at you, while upholding a personal boundary if they step over the line from “assertive” to “abrasive” (edgy, abrupt, belligerent) to “abusive” (put-downs, name-calling, threatening).
    [ Related group exercise:  where do we draw the line between these “shades of grey”? ]
  7. Setting Clear and Healthy Boundaries
    a. Know your limits, communicate those limits, and negotiate any differences;
    b. Dealing with “emotional hijacking” (someone who gets triggered into an irrational state).
  8. The Critical Part of Handling Criticism
    Separating facts from interpretations; strategies for handling the inner and outer critics.
  9. How to “unhook” once a button has been pressed
    How to get back to a more resourceful state and quickly get back on track toward goals.
  10. What if I’m the “difficult” person?
    How would you know if others considered you “difficult”?  Would you even want to know?  What’s the positive intention behind your behavior?  What are trying to accomplish?  Options to manage “emotional hijacking” (amygdala-activated states like extreme agitation and anger) and get back to a more resourceful state, acting respectfully toward others no matter what.

Course Length

4 – 12 hours total classroom time.

Delivery options: (a) One half-day module as part of a series on related topics; or (b) 2-4 half-day sessions; or (c) 2-day intensive (includes styles instrument).

Resources:  See related article on Handling Difficult Behaviors (part 3) or request our Emotions at Work e-Book or workbookHandling Emotional Behavior at Work.