Staying Calm and Assertive When Aggressive People Attack

For many people in the workplace, being assertive is difficult. They struggle to stick up for themselves and their ideas. Now, add in the stress of dealing with super-aggressive people at work. Not just your office bullies, but those non-malicious, Type-A personalities that will still run you over every chance they get. You probably wish that you could be more assertive, but wonder how to do it?

Assertive people stand up for themselves in an honest, respectful way. But, you’re not alone if your assertiveness fades around certain types of people—authority figures, aggressive types, very outgoing personalities—people who intimidate you in some way.

And, although the trigger is different for everyone, feeling intimidated puts you at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with these individuals. Instead of speaking up, you bite your tongue. Rather than reaching win-win in a negotiation, you back down. Rather than standing up for yourself, or saying “no” when needed, you don’t.

My own intimidation trigger is aggressive and manipulative people. As a freelance writer, I had a former client startle me once by yelling at me so thoroughly, unexpectedly and publicly that it was all I could do to just keep my composure. I was unable to stand up for myself. While I did manage to sneak in a couple questions to help get to the bottom of the anger, I definitely was not assertive. The tirade left me feeling like I’d been run over.

Brains are wired to keep us safe, so blame it on your brain

As with most human emotion, psychologists reassure us that our brains are wired to keep us safe. Our feelings of fear or intimidation are our brain’s way of sounding the alarm at the first sign of danger. Despite this hardwiring, through awareness and practice you can change your comfort level and reactions.

Here are a few suggestions to hopefully make you more assertive when dealing with intimidating people:

  • Know your values and learn more about your work. If you come from a position of knowledge, it’s easier to stay confident.
  • Practice assertiveness in easy, less intimidating situations, e.g., suggest nicely to your loud co-worker that her noisy chatter is making it hard for you to work.
  • Look into their eyes without reacting. Don’t act tough or challenging, but rather smile and listen without fear.
  • Mentally change the value of the other person. Imagine they’re a child or your employee rather than the two equals that you are.
  • When you speak, speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard (without yelling). Don’t mumble. Repeat yourself calmly if needed.
  • Visualize the intimidating person in a funny costume or clown nose. You can use this suggestion either before a planned meeting or during the encounter.
  • Remember the goal is to defuse the situation. So, don’t belittle or be confrontational with intimidating people.
  • And finally … since we are a training company, take a course on assertiveness training. Seriously … they are wonderful tools to help you flourish in your career.

It takes a lot of practice to be assertive all the time with every individual. Don’t let intentionally intimidating behavior or your own subconscious feelings about certain types of people keep you from speaking up. Standing up for yourself in a non-confrontational way in every situation is within your grasp.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mary

    Who is “Winger”?
    “•Visualize the intimidating person in a funny costume or clown nose, suggests Winger”

    1. Dan Rose

      Unfortunately, that is someone we quoted originally who got edited out in the final draft that was posted, but we missed that part. Sorry about that, Mary.

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