Whether it’s as part of your work day, or personal life, aggressive, controlling, and eternally grumpy people will cross your path. Knowing how to deal with them could make a huge impact on your day, and beyond.

The first issue to be assessed is whether or not this individual is even worth the effort – do you have to work with them in the future? Do you share a cube with them? Is it just some guy having a bad day at the gas station (not like “Falling Down” style, by the way – yikes)? If it’s the latter, you’re likely best off taking a deep breath and walking away. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. So, in the other 2 scenarios, how do we deflect that person’s anger or aggressiveness away from us and onto something more constructive?

Can you determine what’s at the root of their attitude?
• Are they jockeying for a promotion and need to get noticed
• Have they recently been promoted and on a power-trip
• Are they new to management period and don’t know what to do with the crown they suddenly find atop their head

If it happens to be one of these then you may be able to position yourself okay. If you are not jockeying for the same promotion, don’t care about being promoted, or can “play” the role of either of those, than do exactly that. Be in “support” of their efforts and help them by highlighting the good parts and the successes of what they are making happen. Even if it is only a handful of things every month or even every quarter – you can diffuse the hostility by being one of their helpers in their grand plan. WARNING! You are likely to be called a butt-kisser and you need to deal with that. It won’t likely be easy for anyone to see it any other way. The real problem here is that if the person is “discovered” by their bosses to be this controlling and aggressive person and they part ways – your attached lips are likely to go as well.

Not my recommended solution, by the way. Just happens to be a very common one.
More appropriate reactions would be to focus on the fact that:

1. “It’s not your fault.” So many of us have a way of taking responsibility for the problems of those around us. Your first defense is to remember that it’s not your fault. Whatever happened in this person’s life to make them so miserable is not on you. It could be their own lack of confidence or just their innate feelings of self-entitlement. Either way, their psychosis existed before you entered the picture and will likely be there long after you part ways.

2. You should Keep Calm and Carry On: Some people in our world just like to push buttons. They get a kick out of watching others squirm. If this happens to describe who you are up against, it’s best just to not react; they are like the T-Rex, if you remain still and calm they’ll move on to other prey. If their pestering doesn’t seem to be all about getting a rise out of you, the advice of keeping calm still stands. If you need to step away from the situation tell the person that “I’ll have to give this some thought…” or “Let me get back to you on this.” That gives you both some time to calm down, and gives you a way to craft an appropriate response that doesn’t come from a place of fear or a defense. Reacting with backbiting comments or sarcasm will definitely not accomplish what you need to accomplish.

3. Look for the bigger issue: what could be the thorn in the bear’s foot? Can you help get it out? Even if it’s not in your job description, it will help you and everyone else if the problem is resolved. Maybe your coworker is overworked and stressed, and you can figure out a way to lighten their load. Just putting yourself in their shoes and showing empathy for what they’re going through can help to diffuse the situation and get this person on your side. Just be sure that you aren’t sacrificing too much of your own time or energy on this, but sometimes there are simple solutions to be found, especially if you ask.

4. That said. Please don’t allow yourself to be a doormat. If nothing you do seems to make a difference, remember that you have a right to work in a non-hostile environment. You have the right to stand up for yourself (in a calm and respectful way) and let the person know that they are affecting you in a negative way. If they are full of insults and negative feedback, try changing the tone of the conversation, “Could you tell me what in my report you did like? I would love to modify those points that are missing, but what did work?” If you are getting out right abused, you may need to directly address the situation, “I’m not comfortable with the way you are talking to me right now. If this continues, the conversation will end.” If you need help from somebody above you, ask for it. If you need to approach someone in a confidential manner, reach out to HR and ask for their advice. Be clear and make sure you can cite specifics examples – if you aren’t prepared for this conversation, you will have a very hard time going back a second time and may just throw your arms in the air and give up entirely.

5. “Keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you’re up to.” Humor can be a great way to diffuse tension, and it could snap that grump out of their funk. I’m not saying to make the person the brunt of a joke, but if you can skillfully make light of the situation, it can help immensely. This can be a dangerous tactic if you are one to get stuck with your foot in your mouth, but it’s one more weapon in your arsenal. This is also not to be used in extreme situations except for those most talented in the art of humor. Also be sure to steer clear of sarcasm; it tends to be more passive aggressive then funny.

6. Take a dive: there are some fights that you just can’t win. If you find yourself getting into one with an aggressive or unreasonable person, you need to realize that it’s not worth it. You’ll end up becoming the person you’re trying to avoid and the whole thing will escalate. Remember #1, #2; one day we’ll all look back on this and #5.

At the end of the day, if you have worked with these sorts of people, you know that it can be torturous. It’s likely that those around you can lend advice as well and also that they agree with your assessment of the situation/person. Confide in them, surround yourself with as many positive people as you can and hopefully the situation gets better with time. Try not to allow this person to run you out of a company where you otherwise love working.

I have had many situations where I have been able to advise people that if they resign as a result of the controlling, aggressive or two-faced person, then it would be tragic to leave and not share their experiences about that individual – I cannot emphasize that enough. If you have the opportunity to share the challenges with THEIR boss while you are still working for the company, do so, but definitely do not leave the company without taking that opportunity – you are leaving your peers in an awful situation and tying the hands of the company’s leaders to take action.

Angry boss