Episode #4 of the course Handling difficult people by Chris Croft
Welcome back! Today, we’re having a look at the aggressive difficult person.
What Is Aggression and Why Do People Do It?
The most obvious form of aggression is shouting, pointing, and even physically assaulting people, varying from jabbing them with a finger, pushing them, or even punching them. Assault is illegal, and in any organization, it can lead to dismissal from your job on the spot, so it’s not a good idea, ever. But there are more subtle forms of aggressive behavior, which include ignoring people, laughing at them, patronizing them, speaking loudly, interrupting or talking over someone, or accusing them unfairly of any weakness or bad behavior.
There are several reasons why we all, on occasions, choose aggressive behavior. First, we are animals, and adrenaline pumps into our bloodstream in stressful situations to prepare us for either fight or flight—very useful in the jungle, but not appropriate in the office, at home, or anywhere else in civilized world. Second, we might learn at school that to survive, we have to either keep our heads down (submissive) or dominate others (aggressive)—in fact, we might learn this from our parents too, unfortunately.
Finally, there is the belief that aggressive behavior gets us what we want. And yes, in some circumstances—particularly in the short term—it can work. But the problem is that being aggressive upsets the other people that the aggressive person is dealing with, so they will be less keen to help them next time.
What Can Be Done When You Meet an Aggressive Person?
The first thing when you are faced with an aggressive person or situation is to remain calm. Think about what your objective is: Maybe if it’s a one off and they do have the power. It’s best to let them have their way, and walk away from it, perhaps deciding not to deal with them ever again.
If you decide to confront them, then it’s important to do it calmly. Don’t get angry, or you’ll be less in control, less likely to get what you want—basically, they’ve won if they get you angry. Calmly point out their behavior and ask for what you want. There’s a format of words that I find useful to confronting bad behavior: “I notice …, I interpret …, am I right?”
Here is an example of how you might use it—for instance, when someone is frequently late:
You could say, “I notice that you quite often turn up late for our meetings; in fact, you were late again today, and I interpret that to mean that you don’t think the meetings are important (or that my time is important), am I right?”
They will have to either say, “Oh no, sorry, I do value your time for these meetings, I’ve just been a bit distracted recently, but I’m sorry, I’ll make an extra effort to be on time for the next one,” and problem solved.
Or, less likely, they might say, “Yes, you’re right, I do have more important things to worry about than your stupid meeting, and if you can’t be a little bit flexible about our start time, then let’s not bother.” So, now at least you know how they feel, and you can either find a way to live with a variable start time or you can find someone else to work with.
Homework: Think about the people you know who tend to be aggressive, and plan how you are going to handle them. Are you going to just walk away, or are you going to calmly confront them?
See you tomorrow, when we’ll be having a look at criticism!
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton
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