Managing challenging  behaviour in adults

How to deal with challenging behaviour in adults in guiding

Girlguiding encourages adult volunteers to work together in small groups, and to engage in local self-government and decision-making.

Such a collaborative method means you can sometimes come across instances of challenging behaviour displayed by adults in Girlguiding.  
Please remember that your first priority is the safety of yourself, girls and adult members. If somebody's behaviour is dangerous or unlawful, whether they're a Girlguiding member or not, contact the police.  

If you're concerned a young member or vulnerable adult is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing, harm, contact the Girlguiding Safeguarding team on [email protected].

What do we mean by challenging behaviour?  

Challenging behaviour is conduct we find unacceptable in some way. Behaviour becomes unacceptable when it hurts or undermines others. Or it's socially inappropriate in a negative or damaging way to other people, or to a project (within Girlguiding or otherwise), regardless of intention.  

If the behaviour from a volunteer, then they may be in breach of the Volunteer Code of Conduct.  

Challenging behaviour may take the form of: 

  • Verbal abuse 
  • Sarcasm 
  • Intimidation 
  • Inappropriate body language 
  • Bad language 
  • Language that can undermine other people’s self-esteem 
  • Silence, actively ignoring people or disengagement 
  • Abuse or inappropriate comments through email or social media 

Types of challenging behaviour 

Challenging behaviours which can be categorised as aggressive, passive or passive-aggressive.  


Pushing own rights while infringing on other people’s, often in a confrontational or hurtful manner. This can look like: 

  • Staring, glaring or making confrontational eye contact 
  • Speaking loudly and forcefully, using dramatic or aggressive language 
  • Interrupting, talking over others or dominating conversation 
  • Violent and intimidating body language, such as standing too close or pointing at people


Not asserting rights or opinions. This can look like: 

  • Lack of eye contact with others 
  • Quiet speech 
  • Not speaking up when you disagree in meetings and conversations 
  • Agreeing to forceful demands or giving in quickly in an argument 
  • Not taking opportunities to state your point of view 


The indirect expression of hostility or aggression through passive means. This 
could look like: 

  • Sarcasm 
  • Stubbornness 
  • Deliberate failure to accomplish tasks 
  • Indirect aggressive communication, such as through notes, email or social media 

 What are the effects of challenging behaviour? 

Short-term effects include: 

  • Members or other people being affected physically or emotionally 
  • Lack of progress on events, projects or developments within local guiding 
  • Disruption to events and meetings 
  • Damage to relationships between volunteers 
  • Damage to relationships with parents/carers or girls

Long-term effects include: 

  • Volunteers or girls not staying in Girlguiding 
  • Lack of growth in units or areas 
  • Low motivation within teams and areas 
  • Lack of innovation and positive change within local areas 
  • Damage to Girlguiding’s reputation, locally and nationally 

Preventing challenging behaviour 

In an ideal world, challenging behaviour would not be exhibited by any adults involved in Girlguiding. However, circumstances or the thoughts or feelings someone experiences may lead to them behaving in an unacceptable way.  

The reasons behind challenging behaviour are often outside anyone else’s control; but there are ways of helping to prevent challenging behaviour, for example by being supportive to other Girlguiding volunteers and creating an environment that fosters positive attitudes among adults. Important ways of doing this include keeping open channels of communication and setting an example with your own behaviour. 

Be assertive  

Being assertive can be a helpful way to prevent or manage the challenging behaviour of others. Being assertive means ensuring that your rights, goals and priorities are acknowledged and respected, while not infringing on other people’s rights to the same acknowledgement and respect. 

Assertive behaviour can be demonstrated through: 

  • Maintaining eye contact 
  • Calm, clear speech 
  • Being firm on points or goals 
  • Listening to others’ points of view and responding appropriately 
  • Accepting criticism while maintaining a firm standpoint

Ensure that everyone knows what to expect

If people don’t know what is expected of them, they can be unhappy or frustrated when they’re asked to do things they’ve not anticipated. Be clear what is expected from them, and what they can expect from you.  

Skills for managing challenging behaviour 

There are two main techniques that can help appease challenging situations: 

Active listening 

In conversation, it is vital that you listen properly and find out what the world looks like from the other person’s point of view. This can lead you to understanding the reasons for their behaviour and how you can support them so it doesn’t happen again. 

These top tips will help with active listening. 

  • Time: give the other person time to form sentences about how they are feeling and to express themselves. 
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes people need time to process and order their thoughts, especially when upset about something. Don’t interrupt. 
  • Concentration: concentrate on what the other person is telling you and ignore the narrative inside your own head. Try to avoid immediately linking what you are hearing to your own experiences, feelings and opinions. 
  • Non-verbal cues: pay attention to the other person’s non-verbal communication and what that tells you about their feelings and experiences. Use your own non-verbal communication to encourage the other person (e.g. leaning forward, smiling, nodding, making positive eye contact). 
  • Open questions: encourage the other person to express themselves further by asking open questions (e.g. ‘How did you feel about this?’). 
  • Reflection: respond to the other person by summarising what you have heard them telling you. This can help them to understand their own feelings and actions, and they can correct you if you have misunderstood. 
  • Difference: be aware that people have different backgrounds and abilities. A person may need more or less time to think about what they want to say, or might use different words. 

‘I’ statements 

The use of ‘I’ statements is a common technique used in conflict resolution and managing challenging behaviour. This technique can be particularly useful if you’re facilitating a conversation between people who are in disagreement with each other. 

By starting with their own experiences, they can prevent themselves from making assumptions about the other person’s feelings and motivations. When an ‘I’ statement is used in a nonconfrontational way to express how the behaviour in question has affected a person, it is easier to open up a positive and productive conversation. 

The ‘I’ statement should be delivered in the following way. 

  1. A description of how you are affected by a person’s behaviour, e.g. ‘hurt’, ‘upset’, ‘worried’. 
  2. A description of the other person’s behaviour that is based on fact – i.e. what they have said or done, rather than how you have interpreted it. 
  3. A statement about what you would like to happen next. 

‘I’ statements should not be: 

  • Used aggressively: ‘I feel upset because you have been badmouthing me to other people’ 
  • Used passive-aggressively: ‘I feel upset but it’s OK, I’ll deal with it’ 
  • Used as an excuse to highlight how you have been victimised by another person’s behaviour: ‘I feel upset because of the way people like you treat me’.