How to Manage Aggressive People at Work, and Not Become One

How to Manage Aggressive People at Work, and Not Become One

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When dealing with angry or aggressive people at work, the temptation can be to fight fire with fire. But, what if you're not a naturally confrontational person? Here we explore how to handle difficult colleagues.
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The banking profession has a bad reputation. While the Wolf of Wall Street days are gone, pay is lower and compliance stricter, one key component remains; the aggression. 

As the struggle to create more diverse workplaces continues, Investment Banks and their trading floors remain filled with type-A, hot headed personalities. Smart individuals, with a lot at stake. Whilst emotion in the form of tears or upset “shows weakness”, anger is accepted and aggression seen as a natural partner of the environment.

Aggression in the workplace is by no means a problem exclusive to banking. Almost every office will have someone that is combative or argumentative and learning to deal with these types of people is key not only to career progression, but also happiness in your career.

An important thing to understand is that very few people enjoy arguing. As different as every individual is, the emotional turbulence from the argument will be uncomfortable for everyone involved; anger is an unpleasant emotion and, in general, those being aggressive towards you don’t enjoy the confrontation any more than you do. 

So how can you start to reduce the aggression you have to face and reduce its overall impact on you?  

1)   See if you can help that person get extra support

We rarely know the truth of what’s going on in someone’s life, but if there has been a change in their behaviour it’s likely something else will have caused it. Escalating the situation may just increase their stress and make things worse.

First give them the benefit of the doubt and see if anything can be taken off their plate. Kindness and proactivity from you might encourage softness you didn’t know they had.  

2)   Put your foot down

Not by shouting back, but by holding your ground. Turning aggression into an argument will only worsen the situation, but remaining calm, concise and standing your ground will let the other person know you’re not about to be bullied into submission.

3)   Build the right rhetoric 

Ensure that you remain calm and polite at all times, this will make it clear to onlookers that the other person is the cause of any tension; a good manager will step in and talk to that person without you having to do anything. Even if your manager doesn’t, getting others on your side will help you in the long term. 

4)   Align your goals

This is the number one rule for getting pretty much anything in the office. Figure out what the other person is after – be it a promotion, role change or just an easy life. Make it clear to them how you can help this be achieved and they should be more willing to keep things sweet.

5)   Walk away

Aggression and anger in the workplace shouldn’t be accepted, and nothing makes a statement as much as walking away or not entertaining a conversation. As much as this could make you look like a drama queen, it should only take a couple of times for the message to get through and hopefully the other person will approach future interactions with a little calmer.

6)   Speak to the other person

By having an open honest dialogue with them you can try and identify why there are issues. They might have an issue with the way you phrase requests for example. This is a high risk strategy as it could quickly backfire, especially if the other person is hot headed and likely to overreact. 

7)   Speak to the person’s manager

WARNING: This will probably make the person dislike you, so should only be used as a last resort. The goal is to improve relations whilst letting the other person know they can’t push you around.

8)   Be rude back

This is the most tempting solution sometimes. But, it’s true that you can win a war by fighting harder and, do you really want to be that person anyway?

However, if you feel you’re dealing with someone who genuinely thrives off aggression, there are really only two tactics you can try. Either try to undermine them, sending the message that ~they cant fuck with you~, or, much better, steer clear – as far clear as possible!!

You might have read through the above methods and feel like none are quite the right approach. Unfortunately, just like birth control, there is no perfect method. The good news if that in the long term that person won’t be an issue, either one of you will move. In the meantime, nothing is quite as valuable to your career as learning how not to behave. So take the lesson and remember that kindness is key and aggression gets you nowhere. 


“Be kind whenever possible, it is always possible” – The 14th Dalai Lama

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