Aggressive behavior in the workplace is more common than one may think. Regardless of whether it’s subtle or obvious, aggressive behavior is abusive behavior and it should never be tolerated. According to Brigham Young University, aggressive behavior occurs in many contexts and can vary from verbal abuse to severe physical abuse.
Here are some examples of what aggressive behavior may look like:
- Using crude and disrespectful language
- Interrupting someone while they’re speaking
- Intentionally excluding others
- Silent treatment
- Tearing others down
- Verbal hostility
- Undermining others work, or taking credit for it
- Lacking empathy, kindness, courtesy or appreciation for others
- Complaining and criticizing more than complimenting; they never have anything nice to say; what they say is always an attack
- Creating fear among the team
- Believing they know better than everyone else
- Dismissive of others opinions, thoughts, and ideas
Some people struggle to stand up for themselves or actively avoid confrontation. As such, they let aggressive behavior and comments go unchecked with the belief that it’ll eventually stop. The reality is, the behavior will only get worse as the aggressor has now labeled the individual a silent target. Thus, their behavior will eventually chip away at your confidence and make you dread coming to work. However, when you stand up for yourself, you’re telling your aggressor that you command respect and won’t tolerate their aggressive behavior.
Here are three ways to best handle aggressive people in the workplace.
React To Aggression With Assertiveness
One of the biggest misconceptions is that aggressiveness and assertiveness are the same. The key differences are the tone of voice, the words communicated, and the body language used. Assertiveness is about firmly expressing your rights and needs in a respectful and professional way whereas aggressiveness is
The key to being assertive is to remain calm, firm, and appear confident. The worst thing you can do is respond to aggression with aggression. This doesn’t end well for anyone involved and only escalates the situation. Likewise, you may lose credibility when reporting the situation.
Some statements you can use to call out inappropriate and aggressive behavior are:
- “I’d like to finish”
- “What’s your intention in saying that?”
- “Excuse me, I was speaking.”
- Asking them to explain what they mean so that they’re forced to acknowledge that they’re being intentionally disrespectful
- “I don’t appreciate how you talk to me”
- “Please don’t speak to me in that tone”
- Using an “I” message
- “I refuse to talk to you when you’re being rude”
- “That’s extremely inappropriate. I’m going to give you some time to rethink your approach to this.”
- Acting like a “grey rock” by becoming unresponsive and ignoring their abusive behavior and comments. This is done by repeating your question or statement.
It’s important to remain professional and calm when communicating any of the above phrases. If you need to, take a breath to avoid responding with emotions and defensiveness. This helps you stick to the facts. In addition, when addressing aggressive behavior in real-time make sure not to attack them with a list of their past behaviors.
If you’re the type of person to freeze when encountering aggressive behavior, you can reach out to the individual privately to let them know that what they did was not okay and ask them how you can work together effectively. For example, you can say something like, “you interrupt me every time I speak during our morning standup. Do you have a problem with me or is there something we need to talk about so we can work more effectively together?”
Utilize Support Systems And Resources
Whether you’ve just started at the company or have been there a while, you should seek out allies. By creating alliances with your teammates or other colleagues you know you have individuals who will advocate and support you. If needed, these alliances can provide witness statements to HR. Elice Max, co-owner of EMUCoupon, said, “having someone take a stand with you will help build your case. It would also make the aggressive person reconsider their behavior as they would feel the tide turning against them.” She added, “it’s important to have a support system in the workplace to feel more empowered and less isolated while dealing with aggressive men.” Moreover, they can reassure you that you’re not being overly sensitive.
If the aggressor isn’t your manager, you’ll want to reach out to your manager for advice on how to best handle this. Not only does this make your manager aware of what’s going on, but it gives them an opportunity to intervene and shut down any disrespectful and inappropriate behavior.
Document And Know Your Rights
Another strategy is to document all aggressive and disrespectful behavior. Not only does this create a record of events (dates, times, and a detailed account of all instances including any witnesses) but it provides evidence of a repeated pattern of behavior to your manager and HR. Additionally, it leaves the emotions out of it and focuses on the facts. Approaching HR with evidence of increasingly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior demonstrates that this isn’t a mild complaint.
There’s always the risk that HR or your boss brushes you off and doesn’t take your complaint seriously. Should this occur, you do have a few options such as
- Utilizing your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to seek advice on what next steps you should take
- Scheduling a legal consult depending on the severity of the mistreatment. Unfortunately, there is no federal law that addresses workplace bullying or mistreatment. However, if a person is a member of a protected group, aggressive behavior can result in legal action.
- Escalating to someone higher within the organization
Too many people suffer in silence due to workplace mistreatment. Consequently, they delay making a report because they’re scared of the consequences. Without question, report the incident immediately. There are restrictions on the maximum timeframe from the incident until it’s reported. You never know who else the aggressor is targeting. Your report can make a difference. If your workplace doesn’t take your report seriously, it’s time to seek out other options as listed above and start looking for a workplace that’s committed to creating a safe working environment.