Difficult Behaviours in the Workplace: How Conflict Resolution Skills Can Help


We’ve all been in a situation with that one colleague who doesn’t seem to play by the rules. The one who is always disruptive in meetings, or always takes credit for others’ work. It can be uncomfortable to deal with difficult behaviours in the workplace. Still, it’s important to do so and in a professional manner if you want to maintain a productive and positive team environment.

There are many different types of difficult behaviour in the workplace. Here are some of the most common examples.

  • Disruptive behaviour. This includes being disruptive in meetings, talking out of turn, or making a lot of noise. Colleagues exhibiting this type of difficult behaviour might make others feel small and unheard. The problem may be that they create a distracting environment. At any rate, constant disruption is never a good thing.
  • Uncooperative behaviour. This includes being unresponsive to requests, not following instructions, or constantly changing their mind. Colleagues exhibiting these types of difficult behaviours are not team players. They undermine the unity of the group by placing their own leisure above everyone else’s success. This can cause office-wide frustration and resentment, with ripple effects impacting everyone involved.
  • Poor work ethic. This includes coming into work late, taking long breaks, or not doing assigned tasks. These difficult behaviours can really slow the team down. They are often symptomatic of burnout or a lack of engagement – overstimulation or understimulation, respectively.
  • Inappropriate behaviour. This includes sexual harassment, verbal abuse, or bullying. This type of behaviour goes beyond any kind of friendly ribbing or repartee. Behaviour that makes others feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or otherwise threatened is never okay. Failure to respect someone else’s physical or emotional boundaries is a serious threat to your workplace.
  • Gossiping and backstabbing. This includes spreading rumours about others or undermining their work. This type of difficult behaviour actively seeks to disrupt the structure of a team. It might be caused by resentments and frustrations that are themselves the result of other difficult behaviours! Gossiping and backstabbing are frequently symptoms of wider organisational issues and should be treated seriously as such.

These are just some of the difficult behaviours that can be exhibited in the workplace. Many others may fit into these categories, or constitute a new category altogether. Regardless, all difficult behaviours need to be dealt with.

Some Core Insights About Dealing with Difficult Behaviours and Conflict Resolutions

How can we handle these types of difficult behaviour? 
Here are a few tips gathered from conflict resolution experts.

  • Understand why people display ‘challenging’ behaviours. All behaviour is communication, and even difficult behaviours can be interpreted as expressions of how a worker is feeling. More often than not, a disciplinary chat with an employee will need to be coupled with a more nuanced discussion about the reasons behind their actions. Their behaviours may be a result of something that isn’t even occurring at work! Empathy is essential, even when we are frustrated.
  • Learn to manage their emotions and your own. Flying off the handle won’t help anyone, you can’t control somebody else’s feelings. It’s important to learn a kind of ’emotional judo’ – redirecting any frustration or disappointment that a difficult person aims at you into a productive, constructive conversation. Learning to validate their feelings (and your own) will take you a long way in discussions of any kind.
  • Set behavioural standards and expectations. Boundaries are crucial. Some difficult behaviours may simply be due to a lack of clarity surrounding what is and isn’t appropriate. This could be due to a transition between different workplace cultures, varied upbringings, and diverse backgrounds. Clarifying behavioural expectations with a professional discussion or an organisation-wide document can eliminate many difficult behaviours in one fell swoop.

Focussing on even a couple of these insights will enhance the skills you need to handle difficult behaviour. Practising positive conflict management strategies every day, even in low-conflict environments, will gradually equip you to handle difficult behaviour in a productive way.

Next Steps Towards Dealing with Difficult Behaviours and Managing Conflict

If any of these insights have piqued your interest, you might want to consider attending a difficult behaviours and conflict management training course. Whether it’s online or in-person, at these kinds of courses, you can dig deeper and begin learning about the art of conflict resolution.

A good teacher can help you discover the vast array of improvements conflict resolution training can offer to your wellbeing and workplace culture.

Pathways Australia are more than happy to put you on the right track towards positive behaviour management in the workplace. Get in touch with our team whenever you need.