Responding to Disruptive Behavior

What is Disruptive Behavior?

Any behavior that interferes with students, faculty, or staff and their access to an appropriate and/or safe educational or work environment is considered disruptive.

Examples of Disruptive Behavior

  • Behavior that draws inappropriate attention to oneself
  • Verbal outbursts (e.g., arguing, yelling, screaming)
  • Words or actions that intimidate or harass others
  • Words or actions that cause others to fear for their personal safety
  • Threats of physical assault or violence

How should I deal with a disruptive person?

Disruptive behavior should not be ignored.  It is important to remain calm.  Remind yourself that the person is upset about the situation—not with you.  Tell the person that such behavior is inappropriate and that there are consequences for failing to alter or improve the disruptive behavior.  Many disruptive situations involve anger. Recognize that the period of peak anger usually lasts 20-30 seconds.  Often it is best to wait out the initial outburst before addressing the individual.  If you feel threatened, seek to remove yourself from the situation or secure appropriate assistance.

The Dos

DO listen to the person, through the anger.  Use active listening.

DO acknowledge the feelings of the individual.

DO allow the person to vent and to tell you what is upsetting to him/her.  Use the silence to allow the person to talk it out.

DO set limits.  Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable (e.g., “I will be willing to speak with you as long as you lower your voice”).

DO be firm, steady, direct, and honest, but also compassionate.

DO trust your intuition.

DO focus on what you can do to help resolve the situation.

DO make personal referrals.  Provide the name of an individual when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.

DO report the behavior to the appropriate resources on campus.

The Don'ts

DON’T ignore the disruptive behavior.

DON’T interrupt, particularly during the first 20-30 seconds of peak anger.

DON’T minimize the situation.

DON’T enter into an argument or shouting match.

DON’T blame, ridicule, or use sarcasm.

DON’T touch or become physical.

DON’T ignore your own limitations.

If you feel threatened, concerned for your safety, or concerned for the safety of others, call 911.

In circumstances where students may benefit from psychological services and additional support, and there is not concern for the individual's safety or the safety of others, urge the person to seek professional help, and suggest the following:


  • Counseling and Psychological Services 330-672-2487

Services provided are confidential and do not affect academic records.