There are so many situations where you might experience aggressive people in your daily life.
For example, you could experience them on the roadways. Aggressive driving behaviors include speeding, tailgating, and gesturing to other drivers. Aggressive drivers can actually put your life at risk.
Then, there are those aggressive people we’re in contact with within our daily lives on a more personal level. For example, maybe it’s a boss or co-worker, a romantic partner or a friend.
Dealing with aggressive people in any capacity can increase your stress level and make your life less pleasant.
In some cases, you may need to step away from a relationship with someone who is too aggressive, such as a romantic partner.
In other cases, you can’t necessarily avoid the person if, for example, you work with them.
What can you do to deal with aggression or hostility?
The importance of staying calm when dealing with aggression is something that’s critical whether you’re driving and dealing with another driver, you’re at work or you’re in a personal situation.
The best thing you can do is manage your own emotions. Stay present and grounded, along with remaining calm.
If you meet aggression with your own anger and hostility, nothing good can come of the situation.
When you’re calm and in control of your own emotions, you may be able to diffuse the situation rather than ratcheting it up.
If someone is behaving aggressively, take a deep breath and also a step back to evaluate the situation.
It sounds silly, but it works to breathe and count to ten before you say anything in response to someone who is aggressive.
Lead with Empathy
It’s challenging, but sometimes an effective strategy to deal with an aggressive person is to display empathy. As you’re calming your own emotions, try to think about what the other person might be feeling. Put yourself in their shoes.
For example, maybe they have a lot of work or stress that they’re dealing with. Maybe they have a personal struggle. Maybe they’re having a hard time coping with their own negative emotions.
The more compassion you can have in your conversations and interactions, the better.
Know What’s Worth Your Time and What Isn’t
There are so many situations where you’re going to be faced with confrontational people. You’re going to have to decide whether or not engaging with them at all is worth your time, or it’s something you should completely walk away from.
For example, if you have a co-worker who is behaving aggressively, that is a situation where you might need to try to find solutions because you’ll have to continue working together.
If it’s an aggressive driver or someone in a store, there’s no value in doing anything but leaving this situation. It’s not worth your emotional energy.
Be an Active Listener
If you’ve taken a deep breath, evaluated the situation, and decided that you are going to engage on some level, be an active listener. This is also going to help you be more empathetic. For example, you might be able to find real ways to resolve a dispute if you’re actively listening to what the other person is saying.
Too often in conversations, we focus only on what we want our response to be. We don’t listen, and we’re just waiting for the moment we can speak. Don’t formulate a response until you’ve truly listened.
When you take the time to truly listen, rather than pretending to listen, the other person is able to express themselves, and you might learn a lot about what the true underlying problem is.
As you listen, again, you can start to understand, and you can drop some of the defensiveness you might be feeling.
When someone who is behaving aggressively sees you trying to understand their point, they might also begin to feel calmer.
Just because you’re being calm and listening when you deal with someone who’s aggressive, it doesn’t mean you can’t also be assertive, and you should be.
You should not give up your own needs in order to appease an aggressive person, and that’s not the goal with any of the steps above.
You don’t have to sacrifice in order to stay calm. Instead, you should just rethink your approach.
You have to think about what you have the right to, as much as the aggressive person. For example, you have the right to assert your own opinions and be treated with respect.
Verbal and Nonverbal Behaviors That Can Help When You’re Dealing with Aggression
There is a range of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors you can engage in that might help diffuse an aggressive situation.
As far as non-verbal behavior, make sure you’re keeping eye contact but not to the point that it seems like you’re confrontational. Respect the other person’s personal space, and try to be as calm with your physical movements as you’re with your words. You should also evaluate your overall body language.
As far as verbal behaviors, be polite and empathetic, and don’t try to tell the person to calm down. That can come off like you’re trying to control them.
When Should You Do More?
In some situations, aggression might escalate to the point that you need to speak with someone else about it. For example, if the aggression is taking place at work, even if you’re able to remain calm in the immediate situation, you still need to report what happened.
Even when you’re confronted with someone who’s aggressive, it’s not up to you to try and give them therapy or help them understand the error of their ways. What your priorities should include keeping yourself safe, managing your emotions, and trying to extract yourself from an escalating situation.
You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do.
When you look back on the confrontation, you might think of things you could have done differently in the future, or you might decide you have no interest in engaging with that person again, which is your right.