Gavin Williamson’s resignation following claims of “unethical and immoral” conduct is yet another example of how commonplace unreasonable behaviour is at work. By unreasonable behaviour, we’re talking about those unfair comments designed to put you on the back foot and undermine you. This could be a colleague belittling your ideas in front of your boss, a customer intimidating you to shift the balance of power in their favour or a supplier deliberately playing games in order to weaken your negotiating position. The secret to dealing with unreasonable behaviour at work is to follow the 4 steps below to dial up your Emotional Intelligence and level the playing field once and for all.


1.  You need to recognise it

The first step is to recognise when people are throwing curve balls designed to undermine your position. Sometimes this behaviour will be deliberate, sometimes the person will do it unwittingly. In either case, you need to spot the unfair comments and tell yourself that this behaviour is always unacceptable. A great way to do this is to think about how children behave if they can’t get their own way. This could be stamping their feet or storming off to the room if they aren’t allowed out to play.  Now use your EQ to see this through a business lens  – I’m sure we can all think of a time when a colleague or customer has banged their fist on the table or used silence as a way of getting the upper hand.

2. You need to respond not react 

The next step is to draw on your EQ to work out the best way to respond to this unreasonable behaviour. Remind yourself that you can’t control their behaviour but you can control how you respond to it. So take a deep breath to help you stay calm and use your self-control – a key EQ skill – to think about how to respond in a measured way rather than giving a knee-jerk reaction. Giving yourself time to order you thoughts will ensure you get the best possible outcome from your interaction. Above all, avoid responding by text or WhatsApp – written word is much more open to interpretation and could inadvertently fan the flames.

3. You need to push back

It’s important to deal with the intimidation in a situationally appropriate way. Have the courage to call them out and name their behaviour to show that you know what they are trying to do. Level the playing field by showing them that their behaviour or comment is not working and is therefore pointless. One way to re-establish the balance of power is to use humour to diffuse the situation. For example, if your customer greets your proposal with a wall of silence, don’t be afraid to ask them “Are you giving me the silent treatment?” It’s important to say this with the right tone as your aim should be to diffuse rather than fuel the situation.

4. You need to move on 

Once you’ve shown the other party you are an equal, draw on your resilience and try not to dwell on the conversation.  Don’t let their behaviour put you off your stride or even worse worry that you might have upset them. Instead focus on what you want to achieve and get back to the business in hand. This could be making a new proposal if you are dealing with a customer, agreeing next steps if you are talking to a supplier or identifying new ways of working if you are dealing with a colleague.

Finally, it’s important to remember that dealing with unreasonable behaviour live in the moment is no mean feat – so whenever possible try to plan ahead and anticipate any curve balls that may come your way.  By preparing your response in advance and planning how to move the conversation on, you will give yourself valuable thinking time – after all, as the saying goes, forewarned really is forearmed.