Two Surprising Takes on Difficult Behavior

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Sometimes the way you think about something can shift the outcome for the better.

Say a patient, client, or student you work with is yelling, swearing, or being belligerent. This person frequently gets upset, throws things, and you and your colleagues are often at a loss of what to do. Something has to change, but you don't know what.

Believe it or not, a de-escalation key is in your hand. This anxious, angry, or upset person is actually "doing you a favor by telling you what you need to do," says CPI's Dan Lonigro.


By acting out, the veteran crisis-prevention trainer says, the person gives you the answer. Because when you understand the levels of escalating behavior, you know which intervention to use and when.

If you've had Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, you know that if a person is showing signs that they're starting to get upset, a supportive approach will help you de-escalate the behavior. You also know what to do if a person loses rationality or becomes challenging or belligerent. You know effective ways to block and move away from strikes and grabs. You know how to debrief the situation once it's over, and you know strategies for rebuilding trust. Additionally, you know how to adapt all the appropriate interventions to the situation and to the unique needs of the person you're trying to help.

If you haven't had training, here's one quick tip: Know that all behavior is communication.

An escalating person is trying to communicate their needs. They may be communicating differently because they're so upset that they’re unable to think or interact rationally, or because they have a condition such as Alzheimer's or autism, and they have different ways of making their feelings understood. Find out what they need and you can help them calm down.

Does it sound weird or hard to believe that negative behaviors can actually lead to positive results? You can learn more about this unusual idea in Dan's Do Me a Favor blog post. You can also listen to him talk about this concept—and how to apply it—in his interview for Unrestrained.

Another unexpected take on difficult behavior is this: Crisis is an opportunity.

That too, may be hard to believe, especially when you're dealing with someone who's screaming, out of control, or seems impossible to get through to. But the reality is that once you've effectively resolved the problem and helped the person cool down, you know what to do to prevent the situation from occurring again in the future.
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About the Author

“I believe that more often than many people think is possible, we can prevent problems from getting out of control. We can make each other safer.”