How to Deal With an Aggressive Person The natural tendency when someone begins to attack is to strike back. However, this is often not wise. People who are in the heat of an aggressive attack are rarelysuccessfully dealt with by counterattack. Counterattack only adds fuelto the fire and rarely accomplishes anything with an angry person.A wiser approach is to help the person to feel understood andencourage him or her to calm down and discuss the situationreasonably.A caution, however, is that is would be most unwise to admonish theperson in the middle of an attack to “calm down and discuss thesituation reasonably!” Instead, use the following steps.1. Hear the person outDon’t interrupt or try to make your point. Instead, listen attentively,using head nods or short verbal statements like “Uh-huh” or “I see” toencourage the person to continue to talk.2. Keep asking for elaboration and clarificationYes, I realize that this about the last thing that you want to do whensomeone is aggressively attacking. You don’t want to ask them to giveyou more details than they are already giving you!However, keep a cool head. Realize that when you show that you areopen to hearing and understanding what the person is saying, this willeventually encourage the individual to calm down. You may askquestions like, “Then what happened?” or “Tell me more about whatyou meant when you said I was insensitive.”3. Consider taking notesIn some cases this can be helpful, if you say something like, “I want tobe sure that I’m understanding your main points, so would you mind ifI take a few notes while you tell me about it?” This sometimes has away of slowing what the person is saying, and it may tend to causehim or her to be less raging.
However, the note-taking strategy must be used with caution, becauseat times it could make the person even angrier, especially if they’retending toward suspiciousness and paranoia about your motives.4. Show concern on your faceYour facial expressions should be attentive and concerned. Indicateyour interest in what the person is saying by maintaining a pleasant,relaxed facial expression and a steady (not staring) gaze.5. Keep your voice tone softNever raise your voice volume so that you can be heard over a personwho is yelling. This will only make the other person yell more loudly!Instead, lower your voice tone even below your normal range. Thenatural effect of this is that the other person will also speak moresoftly.6. Paraphrase and summarize what the person has saidIn an attempt to show to the person that you are listening and tryingto understand, you might say something like, “Let me see if I have themain points that are important to you”…(then proceed to summarizethose in your own words) 7. Do not argueAn argument occurs when you listen to what the person is saying withthe intent of finding the weakness in it. You then begin to rebut theirstatements, often interrupting to do so.8. Find as much as possible to agree withIf you look closely enough, you can usually find something to agreewith in what the person is saying. There is usually some grain of truthto their observations, even if they have misinterpreted some part ofthe situation. Mention some area of the person’s point of view in whichyou find validity, acknowledging your ability to see how it could havebeen interpreted as they are seeing it.9. Empathize with the person’s feelings
You might say something like, “I can see how you would be reallyfrustrated. In situations before where I felt that I was cut off and myopinions didn’t matter, I felt frustrated, too.”10. Ask if the person would be willing to hear some additionalinformationThis is where you begin to share your side of the story. You’re notsaying that yours is the right information and theirs is wrong. You aresaying something like, “Would be it all right if I shared with you someother facts that may give us a part of the total picture?”11. Ask what he or she thinks would make the situation betterVery often the person is so consumed with the expression of anger, heor she has not really paused to think about what can be done now toimprove the situation. Openly asking the individual for suggestions forimprovement can begin to move the situation toward a problem-solving mode.12. Add your suggestionsIf the person has not offered constructive suggestions, but insists oncontinuing the attack, you may want to suggest something that couldmake the situation better. Apologize and make an offer for resolution.13. Suggest a “thinking break”There may be times when you’ll need to schedule another time to talk.If it is apparent that continuing the discussion at this time is leadingnowhere fast, a cool-off, thinking break can be helpful. You mightsuggest, “Why don’t we both give this some thought and get backtogether tomorrow…maybe around 2:00…and see if we can work thisout. Does that time work for you?”14. Make an action plan; restate it for clarityIf you have been able to agree on some action steps, be sure that youboth restate those steps to ensure that you understand youragreement the same way.Psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood is head of Magnetic WorkplacesTM, providing creative ideasand practical strategies for stressed-out, stretched-out workplace leaders and team members.Review a complete list of her seminars, workshops, and programs available for your convention
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