Dealing With Disruptive Behavior Policy

I. Introduction

A. Northwest strives to be an inclusive community, embracing our differences in beliefs, opinions, and life experiences. The threefold foundation for our interactions is our Northwest Mission Statement, our Covenant of Right Relations, and the UUA’s Principles. Because we affirm the central role of inclusivity in our communal spiritual life and because we understand that freedoms are stifled when relationships are unhealthy or feel unsafe, we commit to one another to do what is required to ensure that our community is strong and vibrant.

B. We believe that Northwest participants are each responsible for maintaining an atmosphere where both safety and openness thrive. When a disruptive behavior occurs, it is appropriate for the leader of the group, or any individual who observes the breach to address the situation promptly out of caring and with reference to our Covenant. Although this document deals with negative behaviors, it should be emphasized that a mutually satisfying resolution is the desired outcome.

II. The Healthy Relations Team

A Healthy Relations Team will be impaneled to handle disruptive behavior when circumstances require. The Healthy Relations Team will be composed of 3 to 5 members of the Response Group established though the Sexually Safer Congregation Policy.

III. Defining Disruptive Behavior

A. Policy Guideline. This policy shall guide us in addressing perceived disruptive behavior. Some examples include damaging the emotional and/or physical well-being of members, staff, friends and guests that may require additional attention or follow-up. Other examples might be interference with the function and well-being of congregational life, committees, or the democratic governance of the congregation.

B. Applicability. The policy applies to situations occurring on Northwest property as well as off-site Northwest-sponsored gatherings. It applies to all forms of verbal, electronic and written communications. It applies to any individual whether a member, staff, friend or visitor, whether an adult or child, and to an individual, two or more people and larger groups.

C. Examples. Some situations that might constitute serious disruptive behavior are: perceived threats to anyone’s sense of safety; the disruptions of activities; intentional violation or disregard for Northwest policies, procedures and official decisions; as well as behaviors that are generally regarded as offensive. The privacy, privileges and inclusion of any individual must always be balanced by concern for the congregation as a whole.

D. Behavioral types and Bullying. There is a real need to draw a distinction between behavior that is rude, behavior that is mean, and behavior that is characteristic of bullying.

  • Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners, or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.
  • Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice). The main distinction between “rude” and “mean” behavior has to do with intention; while rudeness is often unintentional, mean behavior very much aims to hurt someone. Sometimes mean comes in the form of “humor.”
  • Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance, and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational, or carried out via technology. An imbalance of power can be as simple as being a member of the majority in the congregation, being with a group of supportive friends, against someone who is not in the majority or is alone. Religious professionals and staff are not immune from bullying or being bullied. (Source: Whitson, Signe. “Rude Vs. Mean Vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences.”)

One of the more challenging aspects of disruptive behavior to identify is bullying (Found here) Common traits of people who bully others in congregations include:

  1. They do not recognize themselves as potential bullies. On the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the congregation from its own self.
  2. They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” congregation should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal congregation must be eliminated.
  3. They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.
  4. They find their greatest opportunities in low-expectation congregations. Many of the members have an entitlement view of congregational membership, and the congregation requires little of them for inclusion. (Low expectation congregations are those that have few limits on behavior and that have low bars for involvement and inclusion.)
  5. They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They, therefore, won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with other bullies. That leads to the next issue, which is a consequence of this point.
  6. They are allowed to bully because members will not address their behavior. Religious professionals and lay leaders who have been attacked by bullies report that, while the bully brings them great pain, they have even greater hurt because most of the church members stood silent and let it happen.
  7. They create chaos and wreak havoc. A bully always has their next mission. While they may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
  8. They often move to other congregations after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more congregations. (Rainer, Thom S. “Nine Traits of Church Bullies.”)

IV. Process

A. Immediate Responses. When a serious breach requires an immediate response, this may be done by the designated/presumed leader of the group, or any individual, in the absence or non-action of a leader. A first response may be to invite individuals involved to pause and consider their behavior, their motivation and their ability in that moment to behave within covenant. If the behavior does not stop in response to a request for such, a range of options are available: ask the person(s) to leave the setting, remove them from electronic networks, suspend the meeting or activity until it can safely be resumed or take the ultimate step and call the police for assistance. Any time such actions are taken, the minister, the Board President or any member of the Board or professional Staff should be notified as soon as possible, who will then refer the matter to the Healthy Relations Team.

B. Considered Reporting. In the situation where a serious breach does not allow or require an immediate response, an oral or written report may be given to the Minister and the Board President. Careful thought should be given prior to making such a report. (Individuals who wish to seek advice or coaching on how to proceed after an observed event may contact a member of the Healthy Relations Team).

C. Confidentiality and Legality. Once a matter is referred, confidentiality will be maintained at all times except in cases in which a behavior poses a threat to self or others and then the decision to reveal information must be thoroughly considered. Northwest will follow all applicable state laws and reporting procedures for child and elder abuse and will not allow reputational concerns of the organization to be placed before safety concerns. When applicable, the Sexually Safer Congregation Policy will be used as guidelines in responding to situations. For suspensions and expulsions, a notification to the Congregation will be conveyed with the name and nature of the response of the HRT. For limited access agreements, the disclosure will depend on the specifics contained therein.

D. Providing Information and Recusal. Whenever possible and appropriate, the Healthy Relations Team will inform the person that a concern has been filed about their behavior and is being assessed by the Healthy Relations Team. Any member of the Healthy Relations Team that feels conflicted about a particular case may recuse themselves from that case. Additionally, if the perception of conflict or a relationship to the person might interfere with an HRT member carrying out their duties impartially but the HRT member does not withdraw, the Board can choose to recuse the HRT member. If necessary, the Board of Trustees will replace recused Healthy Relations Team members.

E. Guidelines for Action. General guidelines to be followed by the Minister, Board President and Healthy Relations Teams:

  1. Deal with people and situations on an individual basis.
  2. Do not define acceptable behavior in advance.
  3. Avoid stereotyping.
  4. Gather additional information required to obtain a complete picture of the situation and research any applicable laws.
  5. When essential to the assessment process, the President may authorize funds for a professional background check to assure the correct identity of the person in question and determine if there are records of past criminal activity involving threats, harassment, or actual harm to other persons or property. (Acts of conscience or civil disobedience which may have resulted in criminal charges or convictions may receive distinct consideration.)

F. Categorizing the Behavior. The following questions must be considered:

  1. Dangerous: Is the behavior a real or possible danger to persons or property, including themself?
  2. Disruptive: How much interference is caused to safe healthy interactions, the community as a whole, Northwest events and the functions of the staff as a result of this behavior?
  3. Offensive: How likely is it that existing or prospective members will be driven away by this behavior?

G. Understanding the Behavior. The following questions may be considered:

  1. Causes: Why is this disruption occurring? Is it due to a lack of information or familiarity with the Northwest community? Is it due to cultural differences? Is it a conflict between the individual and others in the community? Is it due to a professionally diagnosed condition of mental illness?
  2. History: What is the frequency and degree of disruption? Have there been other reported breaches of a similar or different nature in the past?
  3. Probability of change: How responsive has the individual(s) been to previous coaching or intervention? How likely is it that the behavior will diminish in the future?

H. Implementing a Response. The Minister or Board President and/or the Healthy Relations Team may implement the following levels of response, as appropriate to the situation:

No Action: It may be determined that no action is warranted, and a designated person from one of the Teams will explain and discuss this with the person(s) who filed the report. Mediation or other resources may be offered in the event of a conflict between two parties.

Warning: Two designated people from the Healthy Relations Team will attempt to meet with the parties directly involved when appropriate or possible, to communicate the concern and behavioral expectations with reference to our Covenant. A written account of the meeting should be signed by both sides so a written record is kept. A copy will reside with the NWUUC president’s electronic storage system.

Suspension: Two designated people from the Healthy Relations Team will attempt to meet with the parties directly involved when appropriate or possible, to communicate the concern and behavioral expectations with reference to our Covenant. The individual whose behavior is determined to be dangerous, destructive or offensive will be excluded from participation in all activities at NWUUC and/or specific activities for a limited period of time, with the reasons and the conditions of return made clear in writing. The Healthy Relations Team shall inform the Board of Trustees prior to imposing the sanction.

Expulsion: If the requested behavioral change is intentionally or repeatedly ignored, or the content of the breach is so serious, and after a thorough assessment, and attempting to meet with the parties involved when appropriate or possible, the Healthy Relations Team may recommend to the Board of Trustees that the individual(s) be expelled from membership and/or participation in the congregation. The Board of Trustees may accept or reject the recommendation. If the Board of Trustees approves the expulsion, the Board shall write a letter to the individual explaining the reasons for the action taken. If the Board of Trustees does not approve the expulsion, the Board shall ask the Healthy Relations Team to reconsider its recommendation.

Any suggested or required meetings with the Healthy Relations Team shall provide the individual the purpose of the meeting beforehand and offer the opportunity for the individual to bring one observer to the meeting.

V. Appeals to the Decision.

Appeals to the decision outlined above shall be considered by a subcommittee composed of the full Healthy Relations Team that considered the case previously when possible and an equivalent number of Board of Trustees members. The decision of this subcommittee shall be final and will be reported back to the Board of Trustees.

Mission Statement

Our congregation creates loving community, inspires joy and spiritual growth, and supports courageous action.

We are a dynamic and diverse religious community. We encourage, support, and inspire each other to live as compassionate, spiritual, and ethical people. We affirm, promote, celebrate, and live our shared Unitarian Universalist principles through worship, religious education, social action, and an open exchange of ideas.

Covenant of Right Relations

As members and friends of NWUUC we affirm this covenant, grounded in our Seven Principles, as a statement of how we as a congregation intend to work with each other to create a vibrant, caring community.

  • Speak our opinions and our feelings with care and compassion.
  • Seek to understand others’ truths by listening actively and respectfully.
  • Be kind.
  • Be calm.
  • Keep talking, directly with the parties involved, to resolve conflict or concerns.
  • Hold ourselves accountable for our words and actions.
  • Forgive imperfection.
  • Respect personal boundaries.

UUA Principles

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.