Assertive Communication at Work – How to Manage an Aggressive Colleague in 8 Steps

Assertive communication means you have the right to stand up for yourself while still respecting the rights of others. Aggressive behavior is when you believe you have rights but no one else does. Passive behavior is the opposite. You believe you have no rights but others do.

Assertive behavior is finding the balance between the extremes. Obtaining that balance isn’t always easy especially with aggressive or abusive co-workers.  Here are a few tips to help when a colleague slips into aggressive communication.

1. Recognize that your co-worker may be suffering from stress that isn’t visible to you. Problems in personal relationships, money woes, challenges with children, health issues or even the morning’s miserable traffic are examples of stressful events that can trigger abusive behavior.

2. Do nothing. Let your colleague vent as long as you are not in physical danger. If you sense an altercation is about to  escalate  remove yourself from situation–immediately. If you feel the need to say something try, “Bill, this is getting out of hand. I’m leaving now. I’ll check back in a short time and we can continue once we cool down. Avoid saying, “calm down.” Only a 911 operator should use that phrase.

3. Remember that the first wave of anger is probably not the last.  Use the pause  to clarify what you heard and understood. Calmly state, “If I understood you correctly…”  Your co-worker’s rage is usually associated with a sense of powerlessness. As difficult as it might be you need to be sure they have the opportunity to express themselves fully. In-other-words…the second wave. Allow this only if he or she has dropped their level of anger enough to express themselves without abusing you.

4. If you have a solution to propose…do it now.  Express yourself calmly but don’t hesitate. Remember you have rights as well.

5. If you’re not sure how to solve the problem ask, “How do you propose we resolve this?

6. If you can agree on a solution clarify what steps you will both take.

7. If you can’t resolve the issue ask for time to explore options and arrange a time to meet again. Agree to meet with a third party who can help mediate if you feel you won’t be able to agree even with a second meeting.

8. Refrain from acquiescing or doing anything unethical or against established policies. Say, ” Here’s what I will do.”

Unfortunately, as much as combating aggressive behavior or bullying is in the news it is also glorified on numerous television shows. Let’s aim for what Cesar Milan calls “calm and assertive” behavior and the world will be a better place.

If you want to learn more quick tips pick up a copy of “Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It And When to Shut Up.

Don’t forget to leave me your best solution for handling a challenging co-worker. Leave your story below.


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