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How to combat challenging workplace behaviours

If not managed correctly, challenging behaviours can become a workplace hazard and impact on productivity, says an Australian employee assistance program provider.

According to AccessEAP, challenging behaviours – where one individual’s actions or behaviours negatively impact another’s – must be addressed by workplace managers by way of practical steps to protect employees from situations that may injure or harm them.

This is crucial, the provider argued, given that 37 per cent of Australian workers admitted to being yelled or sworn at in the workplace.

“Learning the skills to respond to emotionally charged situations is crucial for today’s managers,” explained AccessEAP clinical services manager Marcela Slepica.

“Unfortunately, we are receiving reports from our clients of an increase in aggressive and threatening behaviours from customers and members of the public. We have designed a verbal judo training program to tackle this issue head on.”

Verbal judo – which is based on constructive conversations and using words to prevent, de-escalate or end an attempted verbal assault while maintaining mental and emotional safety, Ms Slepica said – is one such way that managers can ensure progress towards peaceful resolutions.

“Verbal judo provides information and tools to assist staff to keep psychologically and physically safe whilst working with colleagues and the public,” she said.

“Participants learn to assess the level of psychological risk present in any given situation by better understanding their own signs of distress so as to identify what sort of action to take. Our customers with front-line staff, particularly those in the service industry have found this training invaluable to equip staff with the skills needed to ensure their own safety.”

AccessEAP also suggested some “effective strategies for defusing challenging behaviours” in the workplace:

Recognising your own stress signature

“When faced with a threat, our bodies experience a collection of responses and our brain activates a threat response even before our conscious mind can process what’s happening. This stress response reduces our capacity for logical thinking so it’s important to take a step back and assess your physical, mental, emotional and behavioural reactions in order to determine the best course of action,” AccessEAP said.

“Two people may experience the same situation and have different stress reactions. Being able to determine whether your reaction is normal for you, or one that suggests you are at risk is vital in deciding the next steps and ensuring your own safety. Before engaging further, ensure you are able to think clearly and calmly.”

Respond rather than react

It is more effective to respond to a situation rather than to react to the moment, the provider said, as responding allows us to control the situation, whereas reacting lets it control us.

“With verbal judo, it is important not to ignore or dismiss a question. Try not to justify or defend yourself, let them express their frustration and once they have finished, speak with confidence, explain, educate and win their respect. Do not argue with the other person as this escalates their emotions.”

Debriefing and self-care

“If you experience an incident of challenging behaviour in the workplace, you should seek immediate support from a manager,” AccessEAP advised.

“For less serious incidents, a team discussion and debrief, peer support or other self-care strategies may be sufficient. For serious incidents, trauma support from an EAP or counselling may be required to help process what has happened.”