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Safety Spotlight - Resources to Deal With Difficult People

Any angry woman pointing a finger
By Risk Management

November 13, 2018 - 08:10 AM

Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

Difficult, inappropriate and/or disruptive behaviors, are to be expected at times and can arise from many sources – students, visitors, parents, or other staff members. Learning some key factors about such behaviors can be helpful when encountering these situations.

  • All behavior has a purpose and serves as a form of communication. It can be a means of seeking attention or a sign of frustration when a person is unable to communicate his/her needs in other ways, and is often an indication of an underlying issue. It is important to understand the communicative intent in order to manage behavior effectively and safely.
  • When the purpose of the behavior is understood, difficult behavior becomes more predictable, and the activities and/or situations that trigger the behavior can be identified. This allows effective and pro-active measures to be implemented leading to early intervention and the reduction of uncooperative behaviors.
  • Exhibiting appropriate behaviors and related skills and intentional teaching are very important. Appropriate behavior should be acknowledged and reinforced with positive consequences.
  • When inappropriate behavior leads to the disruptive individual’s desired outcome, it is likely that same behavior will occur again, and again! Remember, some students require more time, attention, and structure than others in order to learn and maintain appropriate behaviors on campus.
  • When possible, provide structure, such as, clearly stated rules, behavioral expectations, routines, boundaries, and inter-relational guidelines.
  • Share positive information regarding behavioral interventions with families, other affected staff, and those assisting students, so that all important adults are working together with the same goals and strategies.
  • All staff should be familiar with nonverbal de-escalation strategies and techniques to keep students and staff safe at all times. 
  • Some important tips:
    • Listen
    • Be aware of personal space zones
    • Exhibit appropriate body language
    • Stay in control of your own emotions.

De-escalation ideas

Throughout the year, incidents may arise on campus involving students, parents/guardians, coworkers, or others that staff must address. Effectively managing these potentially emotional situations involves maintaining appropriate interactions, including the avoidance of both over and under reacting. There are strategies
that can be used to prevent such situations from escalating, including the following:

  1. Personal Space
    Distance between parties is one of the most important issues. Personal space needs vary from person to person and from situation to situation. When dealing with an agitated person, be cognizant of the nonverbal behavior displayed (tightening of facial muscles, clenching of hands, movement away from you). Nonverbal cues are equally as important as verbal. As a general rule, most people feel comfortable with a distance of about 1.5 to 3 feet around them. Respect personal space accordingly.
  2. Body Language
    1. Posture
      Posture or stance can communicate a challenge and send a mixed message. The best and least threatening stance is keeping your body at an angle to the versus face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder. This posture provides personal space to the individual and at least one leg length away, individual as well as a safety margin for you.
    2. Arms
      Arms folded across the chest can be perceived as hostile or defensive in all types of situations. Minimizing arm movements and keeping them as calm as your voice and demeanor is very important.
    3. Hands
      Keep your hands in a visible position. Avoid concealing them in your pockets or behind your back as these
      positions can be perceived as threatening and-or as if you are hiding something.
    4. Physical Touch
      In general, do not touch an agitated individual. For some, this could be reassuring, but for others, this could escalate the agitation.
  3. Speech and Language Factors
    1. Para Verbal Communication
      The tone, volume and rate of our speech comprise a large part of what we actually communicate. Using an unemotional tone, normal volume, and a slow rate of speech are best. Monitor and listen carefully to responses in order to evaluate comprehension of your message.
    2. Empathic Listening
      Demonstrate active listening to truly understand what the individual is trying to communicate. Look at the individual with a nonjudgmental approach and do not allow other individuals or situations to divert your attention. Communicating that the situation at hand is your priority is very important.
    3. Verbal Interventions
      Clear and simple verbal communication is key while using the strategies listed above. Providing clearly stated directions, solutions, and behavioral expectations are very important while avoiding a long, complex monologue that may not be comprehended by the individual.
  4. Interpersonal Issues
    Stay in control of your own behavior and emotions. Do not take the actions or words of the agitated
    individual personally. These behaviors are not directed at you, even if it may feel like it at the time.

Using these strategies will assist you and the other individual during difficult situations as well as keeping
everyone safe.

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