On a Knife Edge

‘Put the knife down!’ I heard from the other end of the building.

My student had gone walk about and found some new toys to play with. I hurry along the corridor to find him. As I approach the kitchen I slow down and casually walk around the corner to see him playing with a large stainless steel chopping knife.

Another member of staff and their student are looking decidedly wary and keeping their distance at the far end of the kitchen while trying to keep their cool composure so as not to escalate the situation.

‘What’s going on here then?’ I asked.

‘Nuffin’’ he said, now chopping the side of the counter idly. He’s got a sly grin on his face as he enjoys the position of power that he’s in.

‘Well, put that down and let’s leave these guys to finish their project.’ I say gesturing to the knife.

‘I wasn’t doing nothing. They just freaked out cause I picked up a knife.’

‘Well, I’d be a bit edgy if someone I didn’t know wandered into my kitchen, picked up a knife and started sawing the counter, wouldn’t you?’

Silence. He considers his answer.

‘Nah bruv, I’m a hard man.’ His chopping gets more aggressive. The other staff member casually opens the door at the other end of the room in case they have to make a sharp exit with their student.

‘What makes you a hard man then?’ I inquire.

‘I do what I want, no one can hurt me or nuffin’. I’m a hard man.’

‘How are you going to do what you want if you get kicked out of here for threatening people with a knife?’

He suddenly freezes, the colour drains from his face, his eyes are circling around as he plays out the scenario in his head.

‘I don’t care, I’m not threatening no one anyway!’

‘Well, you’re holding a knife and cutting the counter up with a grin on your face. Most people would think that’s threatening behaviour.’

‘Nah I’m not! Look!’

He drops the knife on the counter and walks out of the kitchen with a sense of urgency yet trying to act suave at the same time…

It always amazes me that when you find the higher intention of a behaviour and resolve it the behaviour changes instantly. Behaviours are a presenting problem in instances like the one with my student and there will be something behind that particular behaviour that is driving it.

Through working with challenging behaviour in young people, I’ve had the opportunity to exercise my language skills to create change by opening up options and new ways of thinking for my students. By looking and probing for the intention behind the behaviour through using language you can uncover what really needs to be challenged.

We are all quick to judge behaviours and label the behaviour as the problem when it is rarely the problem. For example, my student was intimidating others around him by brandishing a knife. Instead of challenging the behaviour of the knife, I used my language to uncover the meaning behind that behaviour. He was making the point that he could do what he wants.

When I challenged the higher purpose by putting forward how his behaviour was affecting the higher purpose in a negative way the behaviour changed instantly! It wasn’t serving him anymore and a new behaviour was adopted of walking away. He was still doing his own thing but now it was in a way that was safer for everyone.

This goes even deeper from there because now I know one of his higher intentions. I could ask him again later, ‘what is it about doing your own thing that’s important to you?’ and go up to an even higher level.

So why’s all this useful? Well with this information I went on to design a 6 week programme with this student that got massive results for him. How did I do that? I designed a whole programme around him picking what he wants to do and giving him a series of options. Each week he had the autonomy to do what he wanted to within the framework we had while he was there and he was learning as well.

I identified and worked with his higher intentions and had no repeats of aggressive behaviour and got engagement in what I was teaching.

How would it be if you thought of a time where you could apply this in your life and imagine how different your interaction would be if you looked past the behaviour?

Find out how to use this technique and more with challenging behaviour by looking at our Bespoke Training packages.

Spread the word. Share this post!

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *