Handling Disruptive Behavior

I’m a parent. I have been a high school teacher, a Sunday School teacher, an Air Force office (now retired), a brass instructor for a drum and bugle corps, and I am now the director of an all-volunteer community band. As such, I’ve had to handle my fair share of instances of disruptive behavior.

In one of the forums I monitor, the question arose this morning asking forum members how they handle disruptive behavior in a community band setting. Referring to my experience, I posted an answer to the question, and would like to share that answer here.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hi, Community Music Friends,Chuck wrote:
I’d rather not go into details, but the most common [instance of disruptive behavior] is one person who is convinced that the world rotates around him, and he can come and go (including rehearsals) whenever it pleases him.
We have had two people like this over the years. Each was convinced that whatever “reason” they had to get up in the middle of rehearsal or to arrive in the middle of rehearsal was absolutely critical and therefore justified them disturbing the rest of the band.As I mentioned in a previous posting, I think handling this sort of disruptive behavior is a leadership issue.What follows is how I handled these two cases – not to claim this is the right way, I have no doubts there are others who would have handled it better – but merely to share how I handled it, so perhaps someone can use this as a starting point and improve on it. If you can think of a better way to have handled it, please let us know.

In both cases, I believe the individuals simply never gave a thought to the disturbance and irritation they were causing. They live in their own little worlds. Other people have said “they think the rest of the world is there to serve them” (or worse), but I prefer to be a bit more charitable. I think they’ve just never been taught how to be considerate of others at all times.

In one case, it was a person who sat in the front row, so his coming and going was mostly nothing more than an attention-disruptor. I never said anything to him about this, partly because the disruption was minimal – even though several other players mentioned it to me – and partly because this person has a super-thin skin and gets his feelings hurt if he perceives even the hint of a criticism.

This was the most difficult one to handle. I had to decide whether it was better to take a chance on hurting his feelings to get him to stop the behavior, or to just let it go. I chose to let it go, and it worked out okay.

In the other case, it was a trumpet player who sits smack dab in the middle of the band, and in this case, her comings and goings were major-league disruptive. She would consistently arrive late to rehearsals, and right in the middle of us playing a tune, would make her way through the band, bumping into people while they were playing, knocking music off the stands, kicking over mutes and instrument stands on the floor, never saying a word to anyone – never an “excuse me” or an “I’m sorry.” To be charitable, I could believe she didn’t want to interrupt their playing by saying something. In other instances, when she arrived on time, she would never acknowledge or speak to another player except on rare instances. This wasn’t disruptive behavior, but was characteristic of her isolationist personality. Many people told me they thought she was stuck-up or snobbish. I was sure it was simply her living inside a bubble.

The way I handled this (so far) was by setting up two one-on-one chat sessions with her. I recognized that this lady is highly intelligent (multiple degrees, multiple careers) and has a tremendous amount of musical talent, so I began the sessions by telling her this. We then chatted about what her goals were for playing in the band, what she would like to see as the ideal situation for her, five and ten years from now. (It turned out she just loves to play and wanted to play as much as possible.) I then showed her how some of her actions and how they were perceived might stand in the way of her getting to her goals. It wasn’t that I thought she was doing all this on purpose, but that OTHER PEOPLE in the band were perceiving these actions as irritating and disruptive. I suggested a couple of books for her to read (Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin) and went over a few points from each of the books, and wound up by explaining that this band, like any organization, is all about relationships. I suggested that she not only be much more aware of her words and actions around other people, but more importantly, how these other people perceived them – she could do or say something entirely innocent and benevolent, but if it weren’t done very carefully, others might perceive it totally differently than she intended. I told her, “Everything you say and everything you do, and many things you fail to say or fail to do, impacts people in the band. Always try to be aware of this impact.”

The results of these sessions were remarkable. At least five people from the band commented to me in the next few months that she had really changed, it was amazing. From my perspective, there is still some improvement to be made, but I’m very pleased both at the improvements that have occurred so far, and by the fact that I was right in taking a chance with these chat (counseling) sessions. It’s probably time for a follow-up chat and progress check.

Leadership in any volunteer organization, but particularly in a community band, is a very strange role to fill. You are simultaneously a Daddy (Mommy), a teacher, a dictator, a motivator, a preacher, a boss, and a friend. You have to try to please all the people all the time, because if you don’t, they can just walk away.

When an isolated individual engages in any kind of disruptive behavior, it is on your shoulders to decide if and when and how to handle it. You have to deal with all volunteers, and all the egos that come with them.

Many of us (more than half, according to the most recent poll here on the forum) do it for no pay.

And we all love it. Because we love them, and the music.

I hope this helps some others get more ideas about how to handle this kind of disruptive behavior, and as I said above, I’m eager to hear from others here on the list of additional ways to handle similar situations.

Take care all,


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