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Tip sheet: How to deal with disruptive people

(March 17, 2005)--Whether you're on the receiving end of a tirade or at the end of your rope, everyone has faced that moment when frustration peaks and temper flares. How do you handle that moment? More important, how should you handle it?

"One of the best ways to deal with an angry person is to actively listen to what they are saying," says Elizabeth Stanczak, executive director of UTSA's health and counseling services. "Often the angry person is frustrated because they don't believe they are being heard and think no one wants to help them."

Human Resources has teamed with Judicial Affairs, University Police and Counseling Services to offer instruction on dealing with potentially volatile situations. Students in FS 104 Working with Disruptive People learn basic skills to use when confronted with disruptive people.

The class, which lasts approximately three and a half hours, is designed to give participants the tools to diffuse an escalating situation. It also gives insight into police procedures and the student judicial affairs process.

"Repeat what the person is angry or frustrated about, acknowledge the frustration they must be experiencing and offer to help in some way," says Stanczak. "Being heard and understood sometimes calms the frustration so that a solution might be found."

For more information or to sign up for the class, visit the Human Resources training and development Web site.

For those who cannot sign up for the class, Counseling Services offers these tips for dealing with disruptive people:

  • Listen to your instincts -- if you sense danger, then make sure there are others around or call for help.
  • Don't be rude -- being rude, even when someone else is rude to you, only makes the situation worse.
  • Redirect or slow down a student who is agitated or excited. Set appropriate boundaries in your office and be consistent -- it is easier to ease boundaries later than to build them up after the fact.
  • Be aware of your comfort levels. Be aware of your body language.
  • Set limits -- be direct.
  • Offer options whenever possible -- people usually get angry when they feel scared or trapped. By pointing out their options, you empower them to make a decision they have control over.
  • Don't take it personally -- many times the person is angry with a situation. Keep calm and utilize the skills you would use for any customer/student/person.
  • Be ready to help even if it's not your job. Don't be afraid to ask or give assistance to a co-worker. You may want to stay around if you think your co-worker might need help.
  • Validate the individual. Sometimes they have a reason to be upset. Own up to mistakes made and discuss options for a resolution. If you or your department did not make a mistake, recognize the individual still has a problem and try to help.
  • Express your thoughts as "I feel" or "I think."

--Leigh Anne Gullett

University Communications
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