Sometimes People "Making Trouble" Are HAVING Trouble

Stop seeing troublemakers and start seeing people who are having trouble making it.

A part of my professional background includes two years of work as a counselor in a reform school. I worked with thieves, pimps, muggers, drug dealers and an assortment of other criminals. And to say the least, I picked up some unique insights into human behavior. I learned what causes people to go in the wrong direction, and I learned what it takes to bring out the best in others. Some of that wisdom and knowledge is woven into my on-site programs and my off-site Peak Performance Boot Camps — because the lessons I learned in reform school apply to your businesses as well. Here are a few.

=> 1. Look For The Need.

I find too many managers, team leaders, and coworkers LOOKING AT THE PROBLEM instead of LOOKING FOR THE NEED. They “see” a less-than-productive employee wasting time on the telephone, or they see a constantly negative team member putting down everybody and everything. What they may not see is a person who “needs” training in time management or a person that “needs” to be re-engaged in the company’s mission.

When I spoke to youth groups years ago, I would tell them, “We don’t have a drug problem in this country. And we don’t have an alcohol problem, a nicotine problem, or a violence problem. We have a NEED problem.” That always caught their attention. But I was being dead honest with them. If their needs were filled, their problems would flee.

I remember Sandy Queen speaking to a group of high school students a while ago. She gave example after example of young people in trouble, but she said, “They all have the same underlying theme: need…the need for adults in their lives to validate their lives with love and caring…the need to feel they have worth…the need to belong to something or someone who cares.” I think the same thing is true of every person in your organization.

One sixteen-year old girl came up to Sandy and shared her story after the high school assembly. She said, “I’ve had unprotected relations with every boy I’ve ever known since I was nine years old, and the reason is exactly what you said up there. No one has ever said they cared about me except when we’re doing it. I know they don’t mean it. I’m smart enough to figure that out, but at least for a few minutes I hear what I never hear any other time.”

Sandy asked her what she would do if she became pregnant. The girl gave the same answer that 90% of all teenaged girls tend to give, “At least I’d have someone to love me…” There’s that NEED thing again.

So no matter what your role is in life, you have to live and work with other people. And some of those people have behavior that is less than positive, productive, or profitable. How are you responding to them? Are you merely trying to change their behavior? Or are you trying to fill the need that is causing their behavior? The most effective people do both.

=> 2. Stop Seeing “Troublemakers.”

That’s right. Stop seeing “troublemakers” and start seeing “people who are having trouble making it.” It’s the second lesson I learned as a reform school counselor. And there is a vast difference between the two.

WHEN YOU SEE TROUBLEMAKERS, YOU SEE THEM AS THE ENEMY. They ARE the problem. BUT WHEN YOU SEE KIDS AND ADULTS WHO ARE HAVING TROUBLE MAKING IT, YOU HAVE A CHALLENGE. Whereas the one seems hopeless, the other has hope. It makes all the difference in the world.

And one of the differences will be in the amount of time you spend with them. You try to avoid the troublemakers, but you are willing to coach people who are having trouble. So ask yourself, “What are you seeing? “Troublemakers?” Or “people having trouble making it?”

=> 3. Spend More Time With People.

And where are you spending your time? Talking about or avoiding the “troublemakers?” Or coaching them to get better and better?


Lots of parents are super busy these days. After all, with two parents working, the high cost of living, and the unrelenting pressure from the company to do more and more, it’s easy for some parents to think their kids are demanding too much of their time. And they end up, according to John Crudele, author of “Making Sense of Adolescence,” spending no more than 2 to 4 minutes with their kids in one-on-one conversations each day. But they pretend that it’s okay because they call it “quality time.” Wrong!

When kids spend two to three hours a day in deep conversation with their friends, it’s no wonder peer pressure is so strong. And when kids spend another two to three hours a day mesmerized by the TV or the Internet, it’s no wonder that the pop culture shapes the kids.

The same goes for management and leadership. For twenty years I’ve heard employees at all levels in all organizations complain about how little they see their managers or executives. When I’ve been asked to tour a company as part of a consulting assignment I’ll often ask where the boss is. And all too often, an employee will say, “I don’t know. He’s never here” or “She’s always in some kind of meeting.”

By contrast, in the really good companies, the employees talk about how accessible their bosses are. They tell me that their bosses walk around, talk to them, ask questions, shows interest, and listen. Those smart bosses seem to know that the more time they spend with their employees, the more positive influence they have with them.

What do your kids say about you? And what do your team members say about you? Do they say you’re always “available?” Or do they say you’re “just too busy for them?”

Action:  Behind every difficult behavior there is an unmet need. Focus on one person who is exhibiting some difficult behavior, and spend a bit more time in the upcoming weeks “getting more acquainted with that person,” even if you know him/her very well. In the process of doing so, look for the unmet need that you may be able to fill.

And then fill the need and watch the “troublemaker” behavior begin to disappear.