A is for Acting Like An Adult In The Room  


“They behaved like the adult in the room.”

This is a phrase sometimes used to describe a person who showed maturity and wisdom in a challenging situation. Such a person takes responsibility and reassures people. They then do their best to find a positive solution.

Sometimes this phrase is used as a plea to politicians and others who argue. They are urged to work together to solve problems. People want them to act like adults rather than adolescents or children.

Good leaders behave like adults in challenging situations. Calm and clear, they create a caring atmosphere in the ‘room’ – be it in a team, company or society. They help people to feel safe and valued.

Such leaders try to build on what people have in common. They focus on agreement rather than descend into arguments. They then aim to create, as far as possible, win-win solutions.

Can you think of a person who acted like an adult in a challenging situation? This may be somebody you have known or somebody you have heard about. They may have behaved this way to deal with a pressing crisis, domestic argument or conflict between different parties.

What did the person do to take responsibility? How did they reassure people? What did they then do to try to, as far as possible, get a positive result?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person who you believe acted like an adult during a challenging situation.

Describe the specific situation and the things that made it challenging.

Describe the specific things the person did to act like an adult in the situation.  

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them taking these steps.





Roger Fisher was somebody who took the role of being an adult in the room. This often took the form of acting as a facilitator between people who were in conflict. Known for his books on negotiation such as Getting To Yes, his obituary in the Economist described him as a ‘lawyer, teacher and peacemaker.’

He focused on creating alignment, rather than seeing negotiation as an adversarial process. It was important to say to people:

“We have a shared concern here. Let’s work together. How do you see it?”

Roger believed it was vital for the parties involved to show respect to each other as human beings. Wherever possible, it was important to separate the problem from the people. The keys were for people:

To sit down together side by side.

To focus on the job to do, which was to find a solution.

To work together to solve the problem.

Providing you clarified what each of the people wanted, it was then often possible to solve the problem. The difficulty was that the solvable problem had often become complicated by the personal feelings – such as anger and disappointment – becoming wrapped in the problem.

In the following video Roger is asked to look back on his career and describe one lesson he hoped his students would carry into the future. He describes the importance of focusing on what people have in common rather than immediately taking an adversarial position.

This video was produced by Mediate. You can discover more about this organisation’s work via the following link.


Different people follow different approaches towards acting like adults in difficult situations. Good mediators, for example, stay calm and create a safe atmosphere. They may then guide people through the process of focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

This works best, of course, if people are willing to work together to solve a problem. You can discover more about using the 3C model for creative problem solving via the following link.

Creative Problem Solving

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to behave like an adult in the room? You may want to behave in this way when helping people to tackle a challenge, manage a crisis or make a transition.

What can you do to, if appropriate, take responsibility in the situation? How can be calm and reassure people? How can you establish clarity? How can you explore creative solutions? How can you help people to achieve the best possible result?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to act like an adult.

Describe the specific things you can do to act like an adult in the situation.  

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.




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