The Art of Handling Difficult Behavior

The art of handling difficult behavior begins with the realization that every behavior has a positive intention, for the person doing it… and that intention can be boiled down to certain basic needs.

In his popular TED Talk, “Why We Do What We Do,” Anthony Robbins shares his distillation of what he considers to be the four universal, basic human needs :

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love

..and two more spiritual needs:

  • Growth
  • Contribution


(For less concise distillations of fundamental human needs, see Abraham Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, and Donald Brown. among others. Brown’s list of Human Universals has been effectively analyzed and applied by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. In The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham extracts five fear-need pairings from Brown: Death-Security, Outsiders-Community; Future-Clarity; Chaos-Authority; Insignificance-Respect. )

I’m a fan of Robbin’s list of 6 basic human needs, in that it is succinct and yet comprehensive, with an interesting interplay between the elements on the list. I would just add the concept of fulfilling a “life script” into the mix — i.e., we not only seek to fulfill certain needs, but we also seek to confirm a set a beliefs about who we are and what is our life story. What we seek and how we seek it are what characterize our deepest patterns of behavior.  (Robbins and others would assert that one can challenge and rewrite a life script — and I’d agree — but let’s save that discussion for another day.)

In any case, one of the ways to effectively deal with another person’s difficult behavior is to

  1. determine the positive intention behind that behavior; and then
  2. lead them towards a better way of fulfilling that intention.

The rest, as they say, is mere commentary.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on September 25, 2013, in Communication Skills, Leadership, Learning, Life, Management, Negotiation, Positivity, Psychology, Relationships and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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