Dealing with aggressive people is unfortunately a fact of life for many of us, particularly if you work in the customer service industry, but although it can be a daunting prospect facing up to an angry customer hell-bent on making you suffer for their bad experience, with the right approach, it is possible to diffuse the situation without resorting to aggression yourself.
Dealing with aggressive people: classic signs of aggressive behavior
Anger and aggressive behaviour is very often unprovoked, although it tends to arise from feelings of frustration in the aggressor. Aggressive behaviour can also be a symptom of mental illness and substance abuse, and aggression is often linked to antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and dementia.
Aggressive people will behave in one of three ways: they will be verbally abusive, physically abusive, or passively aggressive. A person who is being verbally or physically aggressive will be confrontational, hostile, and seek to control the situation by bullying and intimidating their victim. By contrast, a passive aggressive person will sulk, refuse to engage, and give the victim the silent treatment.
Whichever type of aggressive behaviour you are faced with, knowing how to deal with aggressive people requires that you understand the root cause of this type of behaviour so you can understand why the person is behaving in such a manner.
Staying calm and refusing to be drawn into a shouting match, or worse physically retaliating, is very important. Fighting fire with fire is always a recipe for disaster and this kind of approach will get you nowhere. But although retaliation is inadvisable, you must avoid being too passive and continue to assert yourself to a certain extent.
A good way of defusing an aggressive person’s attack is to verbally identify their aggression and let them know you can see how angry they are. Pointing out to an aggressive person exactly what they are doing and empathising with them will often encourage them to back down, or at least open the lines of communication in the hope that some kind of resolution can be reached.
How to deal with aggressive people at work
Dealing with aggressive people at work is no different to dealing with aggressive people in other situations, but if you let the situation get out of hand, it can cause a great deal of negative feelings and stress. It is important to be assertive and professional, but all too often we end up arguing back or allowing ourselves to get upset. However, whether the aggressor is your boss, a colleague or a customer, above all remain calm and do not be drawn into any kind of confrontation.
The key to dealing with aggressive and angry people is to put yourself in their shoes and use emotional intelligence to understand why they are behaving in such a manner. If their aggressive behaviour is the result of an illness of some description, do not take it personally as they can’t help their behaviour. Feel compassion for an aggressive person—they are usually unhappy people beneath the bluster and rudeness.