When your colleague Paul tells you he has get home at 6 pm to see his children he throws in that your boss asked for a report she needs to have on her desk at 7 AM tomorrow. You cringe and call your partner to tell him you will need another 30 minutes to finalize the report. Your stomach feels hot and red. You are angry. Your colleague manages to get away. Why does he not have a deliverable here? Why is this team effort on your shoulders now? You think you could test if the boss was serious about 7 AM but you know you won’t get away with it.
Another messed up night. Your partner will be angry too now. You strip out of your suit as soon as you get home. On nights like this after leaving the battle ground you just want to have a glass of wine and a bath. Your partner rattles with the car keys. It is his gym night. Dinner needs to be cooked, the kids want a story and your inner household monster tells you to clean up the wardrobe. At 10 pm when your partner gets home you just want to go to bed. You almost had a bottle of wine by now.
The next morning, you protect your feelings through professionalism. You meditate and go for a run to keep up a smile. You wear a mask. You put on your business persona together with your pin-striped business suit and when you ask your boss if the report was ok, she just shrugs
“I had other priorities this morning. Team meeting at 10. Will you book a room for us?”.
“Isn’t that Paul’s task?”
“Yes, but he got caught up at kindergarden and will only get here at 9.45 AM. Be a good colleague and get us some pretzels too.”
You smile your best smile and help out again. While men seem to handle office politics better, I often notice that women prefer to stay out of roles where they have to deal with conflicts all the time. If you are in a leadership role – no matter if you are male or female – you won’t stay out of the firing lines. Doing favors might be easy, but verbal and written attacks will be part of your day.
You might feel you are giving more than you should, you might even feel that some of your colleagues advance faster than you, make more money and aren’t even better at what they do than you are. The good news is: You don’t have to accept aggressive behavior at the workplace.
Five methods to reduce aggressive behavior at the workplace
1) Reduce Your Aggressive Tonality
You could be seen as aggressive by others. If you solve conflicts on your managerial level by escalating issues to the next level, this could be seen as conflict avoiding and aggressive. Maybe your intention is to highlight a flaw in the process or that the team is understaffed. Still, the effect could be different than what you intend.
You might underestimate your native language and cultural assumptions too. If you are for example a native Russian speaker you could come across as unfriendly and aggressive in English without intending it. Or if you are a native French speaker you might come across as long-winded and complicated in English. It is good to ask a native-speaker friend how they see you and what you could improve in your communication style.
2) Stop Giving Unsolicited Feedback
You might also be seen as passive aggressive as you feel the need to correct others and give them unsolicited feedback. I had a colleague who would do that. I know now, that he was just trying to help me to become more assertive but at the time it drove me crazy. The basic rule is that you only give feedback and tips if your colleagues explicitly ask you for it. If you are the boss you probably need to give advice but be sure that you tell your subordinate that. Otherwise they will feel scolded and like back in high school. Since I started a business it happened to me more than once that listeners in an audience wanted to help me “sell” my services better or gave me feedback on word plays they would not understand. I understand the intention but I would have remembered them in a different light if they had just asked me about my intentions before babbling their ideas out.
3) Become a Listener
With the current average attention span of 90 seconds your colleagues will love you if you manage to listen to them for a full length of a three minute story without interrupting. If you practice to be authentic and a compassionate listener you will be seen as a source of inspiration and wisdom. Try to understand where your colleague or manager stands at the moment, which issues they have to solve and maybe also what they are going through in their personal lives.
4) Communicate your Needs
In business conversations it is helpful to speak about your needs and expectations in the I-form. “I need quite space to be able to think…” instead of “Could you shut up please?”. Or “I expect you keep the deadline for your deliverables as you promised to help me on this report.” instead of “Once again, you have not delivered what you said you would in time.”
5) Improve your business relationships
As I mentioned several times in the “Seven Principles for Intercultural Effectiveness”
improving your business relationships is the key to success in this globalized world. Work on every single relationship that is important to you and become a giver. You will be rewarded with success and long-term friendships across the globe.
Even if we have become used to it in our hierarchical work cultures we can all work towards a more appreciative communication culture. I recommend you learn about Marshall B. Rosenberg’s concept of non-violent communication and read Adam M. Grant’s book “Give and Take” too. Let me know if these five methods worked for you and what you have experienced.
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