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Dealing With Aggressive Behaviour in the Workplace
By: Scott Weston | Jul 7, 2022 | Health and Safety

Difficult or aggressive behaviour in a workplace can increase stress, lower productivity, damage morale, and do great harm to your company’s image. There are many strategies for dealing with aggressive behaviour, and there is also one simple method that combines many strategies and is very easy to remember. This is known as the LASSIE method.

In this article, we’ll delve further into some of these strategies and explain different approaches to defusing anger and aggression in the workplace.

What Is Aggressive Workplace Behaviour and What Does It Look Like?

dealing with aggressive behaviour in workplace

The first step to dealing with aggressive workplace behaviour is being able to identify it. Aggressive behaviour can present in many different forms, including passive aggression, physical aggression, and general inappropriate behaviour. Aggressive behaviour can range from relatively minor to incredibly severe. However, even so-called “minor” forms of aggression can have a significant impact on individuals and your workplace as a whole.

Examples of aggressive workplace behaviour include, but are not limited to:

  • Crude language (verbal abuse)
  • Threatening someone
  • Emotional abuse
  • Excluding or ignoring someone
  • Interrupting someone
  • Cyberbullying
  • Deliberately inciting fear
  • Angry outbursts
  • Physical aggression or physical abuse 
  • Dismissive behaviour 
  • Passive aggression

10 Tips for Dealing with Aggressive Workplace Behaviour

1. Don’t Suffer in Silence

According to the bullying prevention charity “Bully Zero“, 60% of workers experience bullying during their careers. Despite this, many of us let aggressive workplace behaviour go unchecked or delay reporting incidents of bullying. Some people even believe that standing up for themselves will only make the issue worse.

Persistent workplace bullying can affect your confidence, productivity, and mental health, so it’s important to deal with the issue. Whether it’s talking to the aggressor, reporting their behaviour internally, or lodging a complaint externally, it’s essential to take action.

In most cases, dealing with a difficult person directly should be your first course of action.

2. Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

When addressing bullying behaviour, you should not match aggression with aggression. However, it is important to be assertive in the words you use and the body language you display.

When you are assertive, you are calm, professional, and respectful while also being firm and confident. You don’t want to attack the aggressor or devolve into a shouting match, but you shouldn’t be afraid to productively call out inappropriate behaviour.

Don’t allow aggressive people to simply talk over you and overpower you. State the issue clearly, explain how you are feeling, and make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable. Use assertiveness to address an issue and find a solution going forward.

3. Seek Support from Others

There are formal and informal support systems that you can make use of when dealing with aggressive behaviour. You can make formal complaints and ask your colleagues for witness statements, but equally, you can simply have a chat with other teammates to find out if they’re having the same problem. 

If your colleagues have a similar experience with the aggressor, find out how they deal with their behaviour. Alternatively, you can all work together to make sure your voice is heard and stop inappropriate behaviour.

4. Empathy Is Important, But So Are You

When dealing with a workplace bully, it’s often useful to put yourself in their shoes. If you can get a better idea of where their behaviour is coming from, you can use this to diffuse the situation. For example, if the aggressor is the type of person who is insecure about their work, they may be lashing out at you because they feel threatened. When addressing their behaviour, you can remind them that you’re trying to work productively together and that their behaviour isn’t helping.

As well as walking in the shoes of aggressive people, it’s important to communicate how their behaviour is making you feel. Don’t let them dominate you in a conversation. Use “I Statements” to remind them that the way they act affects you too.

An example of an “I Statement” would be “I feel frustrated when my opinions aren’t heard” rather than “You are constantly talking over me”.

As well as bringing your perspective into a conversation, “I Statements” are perceived as much less accusatory than “You Statements”.

5. Shed Light On The Aggressive Behaviour

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to stop inappropriate behaviour is to point it out immediately.

You can use statements such as:

  • “I feel like this is a very hostile environment right now”
  • “This discussion would be much more productive if we were working together”
  • “I don’t appreciate the tone that you’re taking right now”

The act of directly addressing bad behaviour is often enough to reset the situation and get your aggressive colleague to reflect on their actions.

6. Know Your Rights

There’s always the chance that you won’t be able to resolve your issue at various levels. If you can’t resolve the issue directly, you can go to your manager or HR representative. If they don’t take disciplinary action, you can escalate your complaint to someone else in the organisation. In the most serious cases, you can contact external bodies such as WorkSafe or legal representatives.

In situations like these, it pays to understand your workplace policies and broader rights. While it may not seem fair, being able to articulate not just how you feel but how this relates to workplace policies will help your grievance carry more legitimacy.

Similarly, your workplace may have conciliation programs, mediation processes, or other formal pathways you can pursue to resolve your issue. 

7. Record Instances of Hostility

When workplace bullying, passive aggression, or aggressive behaviour occurs, you need to take immediate steps to resolve the situation. After you have taken these steps, take the time to write down something about the incident.

Logging instances of hostility may help you identify triggers and patterns of behaviour. This can provide you with insights that help you deal with similar situations in the future. Documenting aggressive behaviour also gives you a record of events and evidence of ongoing behaviour that you can bring to a manager.

8. Create Space and Step Away

In some cases, the best thing you can do is separate yourself from difficult situations. If it is possible, you can choose to respectfully walk away from an aggressive situation, or you can stop engaging until the aggressor changes their behaviour.

In these cases, it’s important to let the aggressor know how you are feeling and why. This way, they know exactly why you’re removing yourself either physically or verbally.

If you find yourself in a tense or stressful situation that you feel may escalate into aggressive behaviour, consider proactively stepping away. Take a short break and reconvene after 5-10 minutes to give everyone a chance to reset.

9. Let Go

You might find yourself in a situation where you have to work with a colleague who you’ve had a problem with in the past. Maybe they were aggressive towards you, or perhaps you were the aggressor, and they addressed the situation.

While it can be difficult, you should try not to approach individuals and situations based on past events. Harbouring a grudge or acting with passive aggression will only make your working relationship more dysfunctional, and it eliminates any chance for healing. Having said that, you should remain aware of past behaviours to try and prevent patterns from reoccurring.

10. Follow the LASSIE Method

The LASSIE Method for dealing with aggressive behaviour encompasses many of the points mentioned above. It is widely used in many workplace environments, including healthcare settings, and its steps are easily remembered by using the titular acronym “LASSIE”.

The LASSIE method involves the following steps:

  • SIT

To deal with aggressive behaviour, you start by LISTENING. Listen to what the aggressor has to say. While you listen, focus on the person’s difficult behaviour, not the person themselves. Remain calm and assertive, and don’t get sucked into personal insults.

By listening, you can identify the real issue and try to get the other person to focus on resolving that problem. A good way to take control of the situation is to write down what the other person is saying. This reinforces that you are listening, and it helps to slow down an aggressive colleague.

Secondly, ACKNOWLEDGE the situation and the other person’s point of view. Be careful to respond rather than react. This is also a good opportunity to use your “I Statements” to show that you understand and demonstrate how the situation affects you.

The next step is to SEPARATE the person from others if necessary. This is especially important in customer-facing environments. Once you are in an appropriate environment, SIT DOWN with the other party in order to relieve tension and reduce any element of confrontation that may be involved in the conflict.

Finally, you can focus on finding a solution. INDICATE all the options that are open to you and the other party to resolve the issue and ENCOURAGE them to pursue one of these options. Ensure the solution you pose is practical and amenable to both parties in order to avoid further conflict down the track.

If the LASSIE method does not work for you, you can always try other methods mentioned above, such as removing yourself from the situation and seeking support from colleagues, managers, and HR.

However, if you are confronted with an aggressive and angry person in the workplace, it definitely pays to remember LASSIE. 

Further information on this approach to handling aggressive behaviour in the workplace can be found in this 5-minute training program. If you would like an interactive, engaging video or eLearning product that you can use as part of your workplace training, induction, or conflict resolution programs, this customisable video and many others could be suitable for your needs.