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Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive behavior is behavior that chronically threatens and intimidates others or violates social norms and it should not be ignored. If you find yourself in a situation where an individual is being disruptive it is important to stay calm. Many disruptive situations involve anger. Remind yourself that the person is upset about the situation and not with you. Recognize that the period of peak anger usually lasts 20-30 seconds. It is best to wait out the initial outburst before addressing the individual. If the behavior persists, let the person know that such behavior is unacceptable and that there are consequences for continuing with the disruptive behavior. If you feel threatened, seek to remove yourself from the situation or secure appropriate assistance.

Examples of Disruptive Behavior

  • Behavior that draws inappropriate attention to oneself
  • Verbal outbursts (arguing, yelling, screaming, etc.)
  • Words or actions that intimidate or harass others
  • Words or actions that cause others to fear their personal safety
  • Threats of physical assault or violence

What to Do

DO call 911 if there is an immediate threat to the safety of individuals.

DO actively listen to the person, through the anger.

DO acknowledge the feelings of the individual.

DO allow the person to vent and to tell you what is upsetting to him/her. Use the silence to allow the person to talk it out.

DO set limits. Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable (e.g., “I will be willing to speak with you as long as you lower your voice”) and not acceptable (e.g., “You have a right to be angry, but breaking things is not OK”).

DO be firm, steady, direct, and honest, but also compassionate.

DO trust your intuition.

DO focus on what you can do to help resolve the situation.

DO suggest resources; make personal referrals when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.

DO report the behavior to the leadership in your administrative unit or academic department.

DO consult with a campus resource. If in doubt, contact your supervisor or director.



What Not to Do

DON’T ignore the disruptive behavior.

DON’T interrupt, particularly during the first 20-30 seconds of peak anger.

DON’T minimize the situation.

DON’T enter into an argument or shouting match.

DON’T blame, ridicule, or use sarcasm.

DON’T touch or become physical.

DON’T ignore your own limitations.



*Adapted with permission from Kent State University.

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