Post-Election Workplace Aggression: Dealing with Difficult People and Situations.

The results are in and Boris, as predicted, has won by a landslide. The country is back in Brexit-mode, with a situation of anger and frustration from pro-Remain voters who will see that Brexit (in some form) is now definitely going to happen, along with expectant Brexiteers who will be similarly disgruntled if Boris fails to wrest the UK promptly from EU control.

Whatever happens in the next few months, a smooth transition to regain UK sovereignty is not at all likely. The polarity of public opinion is so wide that things are more likely to get very ugly before they calm down again.

Handling aggression in the workplace

Even before the referendum in 2016 politicians were at the frontline of public indignation, with many receiving threats on social media as well as face-to-face intimidation on the street. An MP’s workplace isn’t just Westminster, but in their constituencies they also have offices. From time to time, very difficult and occasionally threatening people will visit their surgeries. After the murder of Jo Cox, security measures, including getting advice and support from the Police has become increasingly pertinent, not just for MPs but for their staff who operate the offices the majority of the time.

Of course, it’s not just MPs who are under threat of intimidation and violence at work, but anyone, particularly public-facing staff, whether they work for council or housing associations; the emergency services; public transport; in teaching; or shop and bar workers. Any of us can find ourselves in an unsettling situation where tension is clearly simmering and where violence is a real possibility. Typically, the most obvious form of violent behaviour encountered is drink-fuelled aggression, but we can quickly walk or run away from it, except if it’s domestic abuse. More common is subtle harassment and bullying in an office, which can eventually escalate. It is important to spot the signs and know when and how to act.

Four types of aggressive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour can be a learned component of someone’s personality, but it can also be due to stress or, in some situations, hormonal imbalance or physical and mental illness. There are wide extremes in types of aggression too, and only rarely does aggression manifest in physical violence. Most often, especially in a working environment, it reveals itself in insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others, a lack of civility and a toxic office environment. The four types of workplace aggression are:

  1. Physical aggression: The rarest form, but most easy to recognise, it includes acts of violence with the intention of causing harm to a person using pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking or using a weapon. It also includes unwanted touching or sexual harassment. Self-mutilation, or violence turned against oneself is another form of physical aggression triggered by stress and mental disorders.
  2. Verbal aggression: Emotional abuse carried out through verbal hostility is also extremely damaging. Verbal aggression includes bullying, threats or yelling. Teasing, spreading rumours, name-calling, especially cyber-bullying also falls into this category. Put-downs, intentional or perceived, can have profound detrimental effects on a person.
  3. Nonverbal aggression: Nonverbal intimidation implies the threat of violence to the person at the receiving end. Examples include negative body language such as rolled eyes, cutting glances and grimaces, crossed arms and shaking heads especially when consistently directed toward certain employees or groups of employees. In the workplace it could manifest in planting malicious software in a victim’s computer; sending unwanted gifts or vandalism against a victim’s property like slashing tyres or “keying a car” in the work car park.
  4. Passive Aggression: An indirect way of expressing displeasure or anger, caused by resentment on the part of someone unable or unwilling to express resentment directly. Deliberately or subconsciously performing a task poorly is one form of passive aggression, or agreeing to perform a task but failing to do so is another. Procrastination can also be a form of passive aggression or completely ignoring a work colleague.

Attention bosses and managers

Dealing with aggression and knowing how to handle difficult people and situations is a skill leaders and managers are recognising to be a vital component of their training, especially since aggressive behaviour hinders good communication, lowers productivity, promotes high staff turnover and destroys the morale of the team. In many cases, people have simply figured out how to keep their offensive sentiments to themselves or channel them into the more subtle forms of harassment. Even if legal cases don’t result, such behaviour will certainly hurt your business.

Spot the signs of an aggressor in the workplace:

  • A co-worker is frequently in a bad temper (manifested in pitch of voice, rapid breathing, restlessness, or standing too close when talking)
  • Animosity towards others in what they post, display, wear, watch or listen to
  • A regular pattern of invasion of someone’s personal space or work area
  • The person will use anger as a tool to get their own way in decision making
  • They use abrupt mannerisms or hostile words or phrases if you disagree
  • They are uncomfortable conforming to the ideas or suggestions of others
  • Complaints about the person being a bully or acting aggressively are common

An aggressive person may not necessarily understand their behaviour, or how it affects people around them. There is even a strong likelihood that if you suggest to them that they are behaving aggressively, they will disagree.

Playing your part

As a boss or manager, dealing effectively and promptly with aggression is vital, both for those on the receiving end and for the aggressor because failure to do so can result in a loss of key talent. Aside from instant dismissal for the most serious cases, it is important to help staff identify how their actions and words are affecting others. Sometimes aggression is a natural response to a hostile environment or even other people, and if this is the case, it is vital to create situations that help people recognise, manage and overcome aggressive behaviour.

Two outstanding courses to help

As a qualified hypnotherapist and business leadership and management coach for Carol Barwick Learning and Development, I provide powerful courses that provide the toolkits and techniques you need to neutralise a high-tension situation before it escalates, and deal effectively with aggressive people and bullying in the workplace:

A good boss is sensitive toward issues between colleagues affecting the relationships in the team, and uses language that conveys care and cohesion, addressing disagreements and disputes to transform individuals, team performance, service standards, reputation and profit.

Good leadership and management skills are learnt and these bespoke courses are foundational in helping you manage conflict and mediate successfully in your workplace.

For more information and testimonials, please contact me.