Why Aggressive People Suck
So let me set up a scenario for you…
It still relatively early in the work day and you’ve just jumped on a conference call when a coworker walks into your office stating that your boss sent her over to talk about why you are upset. Now, you can guess to the situation and you let her know that you’re not at all upset, that you’ve already agreed on a resolution with the other party involved and since you’re on a conference call right now would it be ok if you contacted her later on. She disregards all that information, insists that you are obviously upset and starts explaining her side of the situation. You resist the urge to defend yourself and explain to her that the particulars aren’t really important now, that you consider the matter resolved and are only concerned with ensuring it doesn’t happen again. This conversation repeats itself for another 15-20min before she runs out of steam and leaves. You jump on your call, noting that you should ALWAYS mute your line when waiting for a call to start no matter how amusing this was to the folks waiting for you, and go on about your day; a little blown away by what just happened.
Aggressive behavior at work is well… dumb… and I’ll point out why…
She set the stage for confrontation not resolution by intruding into my space. This is fine when you’re on a playground and being the biggest bully means you win. At work it’s a bit of a different story, being a bully rarely does anything but teach people to avoid you at all costs. If she’d requested a time to talk, permission to enter my office or even refrained from physically block the exit (FPS!!), this could have been a very different conversation.
She made it clear this was about her feelings and not about the problem at hand by insisting upon arguing over the accuracy of my stating that there hadn’t even been an issue to start with. Talking quickly, using blaming statements and put downs, talking over the other person, and asserting opinions as fact are all good ways of getting the other party to shut down completely.
She eliminated an opportunity for collaborative problem solving by asserting her positions and not asking for feedback. Trust me, there a plenty of situations at work where I’m left feeling defensive, I’ve learned that the best way to tackle this is to pause my feelings for a moment and try to understand the other person’s perspective by asking them questions. In this case she’d heard from a fourth party that I was upset – which is really no better than gossip. A simple “Hey, I’m hearing that you’re upset about the email chain from yesterday, can we grab lunch or coffee to talk?” would have cleared everything up in less than five minutes.
Aggressive folks are by far my biggest work pet peeve, though passive folks run a close second. For a good solid overview of the different communication styles check out this article – The Characteristics of Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Communication.