How to Deal with Aggression in the Workplace?

September 26, 2021by Vanessa Rose

Some people default to reactions of aggression when facing challenging situations. When provoked or triggered, these folks don’t typically leave room to try to understand the reasons for a situation or work to seek creative solutions but instead will react quickly and intensely with anger. In these situations, the needs of said person become the priority, at least in their assertions, and it can be difficult to reason with or find common ground with them. This break in collaboration is one reason it is important to learn how to deal with aggression in the workplace; it operates differently than other types of emotional reactions which may otherwise be more open to human-to-human interaction, whereas aggression may be more inflamed by it.

How to Deal with Aggression in the Workplace?

Learning how to deal with aggression in the workplace is especially important for leaders, as things are likely to escalate in their direction when aggression arises. If an employee behaves aggressively, or is known for chronic aggression, you will want to be skilled and proactive in how you handle it. Failure to do so will likely result in a fearful work environment that leaves other employees dreadful of coming to work.

Unchecked aggression will also create a power dynamic in which the aggressive employee has everyone else walking on eggshells in order to avoid conflict, thereby taking power over the office and those who work in it. Employees will find themselves accommodating this employee to avoid setting them off and in those ineffective preventative measures will take on more stress, burnout, and emotional overwhelm that isn’t theirs to bear. Management has a responsibility to keep aggression from spreading throughout the team by taking these steps:

Start with Empathy

While it is true and very clear that aggressive behavior is inappropriate in most environments, and certainly in the workplace, the person acting aggressively is likely not purely doing so with ill intent. They may be struggling in some facet of life and they may be lacking resources to manage their own distress effectively, channeling it through these ineffective measures instead. It will be necessary to set boundaries, clear expectations, and consequences for this person in the end, but before that, start by trying to understand what’s escalating them. Explore their welfare, check in, and see if they can benefit from additional support elsewhere before pointing out how harmful their behavior is to the work environment.

Be Ready to De-Escalate

When aggression strikes, proving your point is no longer the priority. Instead of adding new information, bringing up what unfair thing they did yesterday, or threatening a consequence to gain back your power, focus instead on supporting their emotional regulation. Ultimately that is something they are responsible for but you can support them by providing resources, encouraging regulating techniques like breathing, and not piling on. This will help an ineffective situation become a more volatile one, keeping this more safe and allowing another opportunity to solve the problem later when cooler heads have a chance to prevail. Support yourself and your team with de-escalation training to avoid making any mistakes that could be costly to those involved.

Enforce Accountability

Learning how to deal with aggression in the workplace is important for leadership but it’s also important for the aggressive employee themselves. We are all ultimately responsible for our emotional reactions and how they have us treating others. Sometimes we need the people around us to hold us accountable to this work, which is especially true if the behavior is causing issues in an employment setting. If anger management, mindfulness, emotional regulation or other trainings are required in order for this employee to better understanding workplace conflict and their potential role in it, they should be held accountable to this growth.

Be Clear About Expectations

Express clearly what kind of conduct you expect from your employees and what consequences will be enacted in the event those expectations are not met. If a person is chronically creating unsafe work experiences, triggering conflict, dominating themselves over others, or enacting other behaviors in line with an aggressive personality, they should understand the impact they have on the team, the company, the brand, and their own reputation and how that can influence interpersonal relationships with others. They should also know what is and is not acceptable and that consequences, including termination, will be utilized to enforce the expectations of the company.

While being a leader is challenging and it’s not always easy to know how to deal with aggression in the workplace, taking proactive steps to ensure other employees feel safe is a critical role of management. The impacts, including conflict and a poor company culture, could be detrimental and long-lasting if aggressive individuals are left unchecked to infiltrate the environment. So ensure you’re engaged and moving quickly but carefully.

If you’re wondering how to deal with aggression in the workplace, you might benefit from getting support from the experts who can help you avoid costly mistakes. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today to get the right solutions for your team.

Vanessa Rose

Vanessa is a licensed psychotherapist and writer living in Los Angeles. When not on a mission for inner peace and conflict resolution, she enjoys making art, visiting the beach, and taking dog portraits. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also manages her own website which explores the unconscious and archetypal influences on how we eat, express, and relate.

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