ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — December 2003

In This Issue

In the Spotlight
Matthew May
Troubled or Troublesome
Moving the Elephant
Elephant Problems and Hay Solutions


AQP Connections
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In a Nutshell
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Troubled or Troublesome?

Most people who serve as team facilitators have developed a toolbox full of methods for dealing with dysfunctional behaviors. As Steve Davis, editor of The Master Facilitator Journal, says, “Intervention is one of the most challenging tasks facing facilitators. From the facilitator’s perspective, intervention involves interrupting the flow of group process to correct dysfunctional behaviors, patterns, or interactions that weaken group process. Knowing when, how, and why to intervene with a group is an art that takes courage, finely tuned intuition, and practice.” (

Have you ever encountered a team member whose dysfunctional behaviors didn’t respond to traditional interventions? Did you ever mentally mutter, “This person is crazy?” If you have, you may find it reassuring to know that there is a difference between “troubled” and “troublesome” people. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( home.htm) defines troubled as being “emotionally or mentally disturbed” and troublesome as being “difficult or burdensome, giving trouble or anxiety.”

The behaviors of team members who are “troubled” are unlikely to change without the involvement of a mental health professional. In fact, a well-meaning facilitator may exacerbate the dysfunctional team member’s problems if inappropriate interventions are applied. The line between troubled and troublesome isn’t always obvious. Even psychologists haven’t come up with a definitive way of differentiating between normal and abnormal behavior. Here are several perspectives on how to separate the two.

Statistical approach
This view relies on averages and departures from the average (deviations) as the way to separate normal from abnormal. People whose behaviors are rare or extreme would be considered abnormal from this perspective.

Distress approach
Suppose a person has a very odd behavior that doesn’t cause stress to him/herself or others? Should that person be considered abnormal? The answer would be, “yes,” from the statistical approach, but the distress approach wouldn’t view this as a problem behavior.

Utilitarian approach
Does the person’s behavior keep him/her or others from attaining their goals? In this view, behavior is considered abnormal when it is maladaptive, bringing harm to the individual or society, or preventing the person from fulfilling his/her potential.

Social values approach
In his book, Abnormal Psychology: A Discovery Approach, Steve Schwartz writes, “Most societies disapprove of behavior that is statistically rare, distressing, and maladaptive. But social disapproval is more than a combination of the definitions already discussed. It is actually a fourth definition of abnormality, quite separate from the others. Behavior can be common, adaptive, and not distressing and still be considered abnormal if it is socially disapproved. This is understandable. Social relations are based on a shared knowledge of how people will act in familiar situations.
If everyone were to behave unpredictably, society as we know it would be impossible.”

What does all this mean from a practical, workplace perspective? Monitoring the “degree or magnitude” and “frequency” of the behaviors can help facilitators decide when to refer a team member for professional counseling. Dysfunctional behaviors that fall far outside the boundaries of typical workplace exchange or that are repeated regularly may be the sign that an underlying mental health problem exists. Recognizing when a team member’s behaviors need to be addressed by a mental health professional and being willing to step aside is a critical skill for facilitators who care about others and themselves.

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