6 Challenging Workplace Behaviours and How to Handle Them

By Tulsi van de Graaff, Partner Brave People Solutions

Work life can be wonderful, and it can be really challenging.  It’s often the people you work with who are the make or break.  Sometimes you can feel like you’re going crazy having to deal with so many challenging behaviours.   It’s the unspoken resentment, the anger and frustration, people avoiding each other, unrealistic expectations or people just not coping…the list goes on.  However, I have certainly seen that when we consciously do our best in our relationships with others, kindness, care and communication can be the bridge to understanding and connection.

Key points to remember…

The only person you can control is yourself – It helps to remind yourself that the only thing you can really control – is you – how you manage your own emotions and how you communicate.  Sometimes you will do the best you can, and sadly it won’t make a difference.  In those circumstances, the choice you have is to accept the situation as it is, leave or take some other action.

Other people’s behaviour is not always about you – It helps to remind yourself that often people’s behaviours may be directed to you but may not be about you – it’s not personal.

Communication is best when you manage your own emotions – When you’re stressed, resentful, irritated or angry, you are less likely to communicate effectively.  Before you try any of the strategies below, be aware of your own emotional state, and if necessary, take some deep, relaxing breathes, go for a walk, speak to a friend or seek support from a trusted colleague.

Approach a challenging individual with compassion – It helps to focus on having compassion for the other person, remembering that everyone is doing the best with what they’ve got, the tools they’ve been given in their life and the trauma they’ve experienced.

So here we go. Some tools for your communication tool kit when the time is right.

  1. The avoiding person

A relationship might have changed or there is tension between you and another person.  They seem to avoid you and you’re not sure why.  You can say something like ‘I’ve noticed that things have been a bit distant or strange between us, is there something I’ve done to upset you?’ This will prompt the other person (hopefully) to acknowledge that they were upset by something you did or let you know that they’ve been having a tough time recently and it’s nothing personal. This could then improve the communication between you.

  1. The expecting too much person

You will work with people who expect the world from you and more.  And maybe you just keep working harder and harder, never stopping… until you fall apart.  It is important to remember that you teach people how to treat you…and communication is key.  One way to manage this expectation, is to say something like ‘I’m keen to do this and at the moment, I’m busy with A, B, C, D and E.  From your perspective, what is the priority?’  This then ensures that the person knows what you have got on your plate and they might even take a step back realising it’s not possible to get it all done.

  1. The rude or angry, shouting person.

‘Stop!’.  Yes, say it.  And put your palm up with a stopping motion.  When you tell a person who is being rude or angry towards you to stop, sometimes they actually do… and that’s a good thing.   Or you can try saying “I’m feeling very uncomfortable with this conversation.  I want to work with you/help you/talk about this, but I can’t do it like this”.  Or you can say, “I really want to talk to you, but I can’t work or think while you’re shouting at me”.  By doing this, you teach that person that you will not accept that bad behaviour while being clear that you will continue to work with them if the communication is respectful.

  1. The speaking badly in front of others person

I hear so many stories of people being spoken to badly in front of work mates, often by a particular person who does it to everyone.  If this is happening to you, think about having a brave conversation.  It will sound something like “Could we please have a private chat?  I’ve noticed… that different times when you ask me to do something you say it with frustration and a tone and in front of others. When this happens… I feel humiliated and disrespected and I can’t think.  What I’d like… is for you to ask me to come into your office to talk about work so that we can work together and I understand what is needed”.  You can use this formula whenever you’re not happy about some behaviour towards you.

  1. The refusing to work together person

Again, this is a situation that needs a brave conversation and some acknowledgement like “I would really like… to work together and I know you have a lot of skills and knowledge that would benefit this project (acknowledgement and appreciation).  I’ve noticed… that in recent times you haven’t wanted to be part of this project and you seem distant, and I’d like to understand… what’s happening. How are you feeling working as part of this team?  Are there any particular concerns you have? (seeking to understand).  Is there anything I can do to help that would make a difference? (offering support).  Could we try again and work together on this project and perhaps check in weekly to see how we’re both going?” (seeking agreement for the future).

  1. The struggling, irritable person

Sometimes a person can be great at work and life gets in the way and then they’re not themselves.  It happens to all of us.  At those time, we are not at our best and we hope that the people around us can be patient and supportive.  The challenging part can be when that person becomes cranky, irritable and snappy.  You want to be supportive and you are also upset by the way you’re being treated.  One way to deal with this is by saying something like “I know you’re having a really difficult time at the moment and things are really hard (acknowledgement).  I also noticed when we were talking you seemed irritated (naming the behaviour) and I wondered if I’ve done something to upset you (negative inquiry).  By doing this, the person will become aware of their behaviour and also feel supported.  It may help them to focus on more appropriate interactions with others while they hopefully get the support they need.

Overall, communication is not easy and responding to challenging behaviours is even harder.  Sometimes it’s that brave conversation that could make all the difference to you and others in your workplace. Most often the other person will respond positively.  If they don’t, you’ll know you’ve done your best to improve the situation.

This article was published by SeventeenHundred on their Hub which is a subscription service for companies and their employees. SeventeenHundred is an innovation driven organisation that provides work-life integration and diversity solutions to support organisations and employees.

If you or your organisation needs support with any communication or conflict challenges, cultural change, leadership, staff or team development Brave People Solutions can assist, please email me: Tulsi.vandegraaff@bravesolutions.com.au.



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