How Do You Manage Challenging Behaviour in the Workplace?

manage challenging behaviour at work

Managing challenging behaviour in the workplace involves patience and great communication skills. Challenging behaviour in the workplace can occur for many reasons. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and unique ways of communicating and working with others. Organisations can set standards for acceptable behaviour and will have policies and procedures in place to handle behaviour should it become a problem. However, project managers often have to deal with day to day personality clashes and more minor examples of challenging behaviour.

So, how can you do something constructive about employees who behave in less than ideal ways in the workplace? We often start by putting up with it, or making allowances for it as tackling it head on is tricky. But this can result in a problem for everyone, as other people – customers, colleagues, suppliers and employees become frustrated and drained from dealing with complaints and negative talk. When there is someone in the office being difficult, unhelpful, moaning and generally not doing their job properly, it can result in bringing everyone down.

Basic communications tactics for challenging behaviour

Here are some basic communications tactics to use when you’re confronted with challenging situations in your workplace:

Keep calm

Express yourself in a direct and clear way. Don’t use threatening language of behaviour. Create a safe space for there to be open communication without judgement. Consider yourself in the position of the employee. This will help to reduce the chances of the conversation escalating and also provide an opportunity for the employee to open up about why they are behaving in a challenging way. By knowing the cause, it is possible to seek a solution.

Be specific

Providing details will help to keep the conversation on track. Vague details could easily inflame the situation. You must be very clear when describing the situation, using real examples. Simply discuss what you saw or what you have been told. But don’t state any assumptions. By making assumptions you allow the employee to respond defensively, and this will quickly curtail productive discussion.

Explain how the situation has impacted others

Put the situation in perspective by clearly outlining the impact the behaviour is having on those around them. Often people don’t consider how others are affected by their behaviour. So, addressing this head on can sometimes help people see the consequences of their ways.

Ask how they feel

Always give the employee an opportunity to think and talk about how the situation makes them feel. Aim for direct answers and get clarification if they aren’t making sense. By getting them to talk about it, they have the opportunity to communicate their point of view. Understanding this will help you learn how to work with them.

Acknowledge responsibility and work together

Accepting responsibility is very often a difficult thing to do. By taking the first steps and acknowledging your part to play, you take away the blame and establish a safe space. In this secure environment, your employee is more likely to take on their own responsibility for the situation. Once this has happened you can begin to work together to improve the situation.


Engage in Learning provide Managing Conflict Pathway courses which will help you develop an effective and professional manner to handle conflict well and use it as a catalyst for growth and innovation. The Challenging Behaviour Effectively course will teach you how to identify difficult behaviour and develop a strategy to intervene.

Our Managing Challenging Behaviour Effectively course can be found here