Aggressive behaviour can appear out of the blue. To get the exchange to an even keel so you can communicate and deal with issues effectively, you need to defuse the aggressor's aggression. Here are some steps to help achieve this.
This can be described as taking a step back or, more colloquially, counting to 10. Don't focus on the specifics right now. Simply think, in confident terms, as in:
- I can handle this
- I can stay calm.
Focus on the words being said, not the emotions being expressed. That may help you keep cool.
Having set yourself up to be calm and assertive, the next thing you need is some information. Often the aggressor simply explodes. You need to be clear of what they are saying and why. This can involve:
- asking for information
- asking for clarification
- checking your understanding.
Once you know what the issue is, you should say where you stand on the issue. Do this in a way that either recognises that they see it differently, or that asks for more information, as in:
- "I can see you feel strongly about this, but my view is different"
- "That's not quite how I see it, but I'm keen to find out why you see it that way".
Either of these approaches normally makes it difficult for the aggression to continue. The discussion can now be equal and assertive.
If aggression is maintained, you need to re-emphasise your position. This involves:
- restating your position from step 3 - don't worry about sounding like a broken record. That's the idea.
- slowing down your delivery and emphasising key words. Don't let them ignore your position.
If the aggression is still present by this time, you may start to get frustrated or annoyed. These feelings can become a barrier, so you need to get them out, express them, as in:
- "If all you are going to do is ignore what I say, and keep repeating your position, then how can we sort this out? And I would like to work with you to resolve it."
- "I feel really frustrated here when you say things like that. I would like to try to work together to sort this."
If aggression is still the approach, you now have two options.
- You could stop the interaction. Sometimes the threat of this is enough to defuse the aggression.
- Or you could raise the level. If someone is recurrently aggressive towards you, then the specific issue you're trying to discuss is probably not the real issue.
So, dump that issue, and ask outright what the underlying issues are that are making that person aggressive towards you.