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Dealing with Disruptive and/or Distressed Individuals


Dealing with Disruptive Individuals
If you feel threatend or endangered, call the police.

What is disruptive behavior?

Behavior that unreasonalbly interferes with college activities or with the legitimate activities of any member of the college community is considered disruptive behavior.

What are some examples of disruptive behavior?

  • Yelling or screaming
  • Persistent and unreasonable demands for time and attention
  • Words or actions that have the effect of intimidating or harassing another
  • Words or actions that cause another to fear for his or her personal safety
  • Threats of physical assault

What is NOT disruptive behavior?

  • Cultural differences
  • Most disagreements or differences of opinion
  • Situational frustration
  • Individualswho need special accommodations and who have appropriate documentation

How should I deal with a disruptive person?

Disruptive behavior should not be ignored. Remain calm. Remind yourself that it is not about you, it is about the situation. Tell the individual that such behavior is inappropriate. Inform the individual that there are consequences for failing to improve the disruptive behavior.

Many disruptive situations involve anger. Recognize that the period of peak anger usually lasts 20-30 seconds. Although this may feel like an eternity in the throes of the situation, often it is best to "wait it out" before progressing.

Remember to keep your supervisor or assistant dean apprised of the circumstances. Do not hesitate to ask for help.


Disruptive behavior should be documented in an Incident Report. Write a factual, detailed account of what occured. Use concrete, behavioral terms. Share the documentation appropriately.

The "Do's"

  • DO listen through the anger. Use active listening.
  • DO acknowledge the feelings of the individual.
  • DO allow the person to vent and tell you what is upsetting him or her. Use silence to allow the person to talk it out.
  • DO set limits. Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable. "I will be willing to speak with you as soon as you lower your voice."
  • DO be firm, steady, consistent and honest.
  • DO focus on what you can do to help resolve the situation.
  • DO make personal referrals. Give a name of an individual, when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.
  • DO report the behavior to the police and/or Student Judicial Affairs or Human Resources.

The "Don'ts"

  • DON'T interrrupt, particularly during the first 20-30 seconds of peak anger.
  • DON'T minimize the situation.
  • DON'T get into an argument or shouting match.
  • DON'T blame, ridicule, or use sarcasm.
  • DON'T touch.
  • DON'T ignore warning signs that the person is about to explode.
  • DON'T ignore your limitations.




Campus Security


Human Resources


Disability Services


Counseling Referral




Dealing with Distressed Individuals

What is my role?

As a staff or faculty member, you are in a good position to spot someone who may be emotionally distressed. While some of this is to be expected, especially during stressful times of the year, you might notice someone acting in a way that is inconsistent with your normal experiences with that person. You may be able to be a resource in times of trouble. Your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping the individual reestablish emotional equilibrium. You may also be able to alert others at the college so that an appropriate intervention can be made.

Possible Signs of Distress

  • Marked change in academic performance or behavior
  • Excessive absences or tardiness
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Undue aggressiveness
  • Exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Excessive confusion
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Dependency (individual hangs around an makes excessive appointments to see you)
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Verbal or written references to suicide
  • Verbal or written references to homicide or violent behavior
  • Isolation from friends, family or classmates
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Prepares for death by making a will and final arrangements

The "Do's"

  • DO speak with the student privately.
  • DO let him or her know you are concerned about his or her welfare.
  • DO express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgemental terms.
  • DO tell him or her you are willing to help
  • DO listen carefully to what he or she is troubled about.
  • DO help him or her explore options
  • DO suggest resources.
  • DO make a referral to the appropriate campus department.
  • DO point out that help is available and seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage, rather than of weakness or failure.
  • DO respect the person's value system, even if you do not agree with it.
  • DO maintain clear and consistent boundaries and expectations.
  • DO recognize your limits.
  • DO document the interactions or incident.

The "Don'ts"

  • DON'T promise confidentiality.
  • DON'T judge or criticize.
  • DON'T ignore the unusual behavior.
  • DON'T make the problems your own.
  • DON'T involve yourself beyond the limits of your time and skill.

Referrals and Resources

  • In a crisis situation, dial 911. If possible, alert Campus Security at 419-755-4346.
  • To express concern about a student, call Craig Ali at 419-755-4705 or Campus Security.
  • To express concern about a faculty or staff member, contact Doug Hanuscin at 419-755-4871.


Adapted from materials from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Penn State University, and the Ohio State University.




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