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Activity 3: Managing Difficult Behavior (25 minutes), Workshop 11: Keeping Distress Productive

In "Harvest the Power," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 2 for all participants.
  • Post a sheet of blank newsprint.
  • Write on newsprint, but do not post:
    • What are some "hardball" ways to deal with this situation?
    • What are some "softball" ways?
    • What are some ways to begin identifying the underlying issue?

Description of Activity

Say, in your own words:

In a complex system, such as a congregation, disagreement is inevitable as people live out the tensions between individuality and community. Healthy response to expressed disagreement is a key responsibility of leaders, especially when the expression of disagreement is awkward, uncivil or even hostile.

Invite participants to sit quietly and bring to mind an incident during their time in the congregation when disagreement made them uncomfortable. What were the circumstances? What was their role? What was the behavior exhibited? What did they do, or not do, in response? What did others who witnessed or heard about the behavior do or not do in response? Did they have thoughts after the incident about what they or someone else should have done differently? Tell participants that they will not be asked to share their thoughts with others. After a minute or two of silence, invite participants to name some of the emotions they felt as they recalled the incident. As they name feelings, write them on newsprint.

Say, in your own words:

Sometimes behavior of a congregant or group of congregants rises to a level we might define as difficult behavior. In the book, Never Call them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior, Arthur Paul Boers defines difficult behavior as "patterned and sustained behavior that is abusive, irrational, hostile, adversarial, or distorted.'" It can make leaders and the community uncomfortable or emotionally and spiritually unsafe. It can hijack the congregation's and the leadership's attention. It can disrupt processes and lead to conflict or withdrawal from the congregation. It is often an indicator that something in the congregation's system needs attention. Leaders must learn to respond in ways that encourage healthy congregational functioning.

Distribute Handout 2 and invite a volunteer to read the first section on "hardball" responses and another to read the next section on "softball" responses. Invite participants to discuss their own congregation's patterns of response to difficult behavior. Does their congregation tend to use "hardball" or "softball" responses or a combination of the two? Allow ten minutes for this conversation.

Now, read aloud the section of the handout that explains a third way to respond to difficult behavior. Allow brief questions and comments.

Tell the group they will now return to their small groups and consider a "difficult behavior" scenario. Read aloud:

A congregant is of the opinion that the congregation is a hostile place for people of his theological point of view. He writes frequent letters to the governing board and regularly visits the minister to expound on why the congregation is not a welcoming place for him. He takes every occasion at congregational meetings to express his anger at the way the congregation treats him. He often threatens to cut his pledge, but he never actually does it. Other members of the congregation have grown weary of his complaints and are avoiding him.

Post the newsprint sheet you have prepared and ask the small groups to consider the scenario in terms of the posted questions. After five minutes, re-gather and ask each small group to share their responses.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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