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Handout 2: Responses to Difficult Behavior

"Hardball" Responses

This is the "fight" mode of response to abusive, irrational, hostile, adversarial or distorted behavior. It includes blame, retribution, hostility and counterattack. The basic goal of such tactics is "to outwit, subvert, outmaneuver or silence opponents." Even if leaders succeed at accomplishing a change using hardball methods, the change tends not to last.

Note: On rare occasions, a situation requires a "hardball" response, such as asking an individual to leave. The Conflict Management section of the Unitarian Universalist Association Congregational Handbook offers information on how to institute policies and procedures for these occasions and when to seek outside help (such as UUA District staff) to manage congregational conflict.

"Softball" Responses

This is the "flight" mode of response to abusive, irrational, hostile, adversarial or distorted behavior. It includes placating, appeasing, reasoning and avoiding problems. Its goal is to relieve anxiety and re-establish tranquility at any price. Such tactics inadvertently invite the person exhibiting difficult behavior to control the system and the congregation's agenda.

A Third Way

Difficult behavior, however inappropriate, may be a sign of anxiety or distress in the congregational system. If leaders move to alleviate the anxiety on a short-term basis, using either hardball or softball methods, the underlying issue will likely linger in the congregational system and reappear in a different form. There is a third, and generally more effective, way to work with the anxiety that informs difficult behavior: Ask questions and listen to the responses to understand the underlying issues. The third way invites leaders and congregations to learn new ways to respond to conflicts and challenges.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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