How to Suppress Aggression in the Workplace

A well-known expert on leadership and management has identified more than ten unique sources of aggression and named five main factors that serve as a “hotbed of ignition” of negative emotions.

Aggression is a basic natural emotion that manifests itself in varying degrees – from mild irritation to intense rage. Like fear, aggression is associated with the instinct of self-preservation and is always provoked by some kind of stimulus – internal or external, direct or indirect. As a rule, the stimuli of aggression are disapproval, deprivation, restriction, exploitation, disappointment, manipulation, betrayal, threats and humiliation which can be managed by PMVA training.

In response to one or more of these stimuli, two hormones are released – adrenaline and norepinephrine, which cause physiological irritation of the body, including muscle tension, high blood pressure, increased heart rate and breathing. This is why aggressive people often frown and clench their fists, blush or turn pale.

But the effects of aggression are not limited to these physical manifestations. Aggression has a huge impact on the interpretation of events, thinking, communication and behavior. That is why for angry people there comes a difficult moment when they need to listen to the reason or evaluate the other side of the conflict.

Of course, basically people do not specifically demonstrate aggression. They try to deny and suppress the feelings that are caused by this condition. But unspokenness can find a way out through physical signs or manifest in passively aggressive forms, such as a refusal to cooperate, disrespect, sarcasm.

Aggression is an emotion that is difficult to deal with in any situation, especially in the workplace. Why? There are four reasons for this:

  1. At work, interdependent, competitive, hierarchical and mandatory relationships are built.
  2. The work includes elements of a constant game and struggle with competing interests among colleagues, subordinates, managers, clients.
  3. Each interaction at work is associated either with money, or with psychological moments, or with both at the same time.
  4. In the workplace, your circumstances and those of other people may suddenly go beyond your control as a result of various factors.

Sources of aggression: from ignorance to personal relationships

Each time you identify aggression as a problem for yourself, another person, team or organization, you should not focus on the manifestations of anger and excessive emotionality, but prepare for specific measures. Since aggression causes discomfort for most people, we often want to repay it, trying to calm those who are not satisfied. But it is like trying to put out a fire by simply dispersing the smoke. Aggression is a psychological effect, and for each case of its manifestation there is at least one reason.

Each episode of aggression in the workplace is based on a unique source or combination of sources, including:

  • Leadership attitude
  • Silly company policies
  • Unfair distribution of resources among colleagues
  • Inadequate control of duties
  • Unfair pay
  • Lack of benefits
  • Tight deadlines
  • Overabundance of work
  • Collaborating partners
  • Contact with customers who are rude
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Ignorance
  • Company attitude to employees
  • The attitude of the company personally to you

Different people point to different factors, but interpersonal relationships are usually the connecting thread of all sources. Each person has a need to value himself and be appreciated by others. The problem is that most people refuse to admit, even to themselves, that they threaten their self-esteem. Psychologists say that aggression is driven by emotions that strike self-esteem. This can be betrayal, condemnation, deprivation, exploitation, disappointment, humiliation, manipulation, restriction and threat.

Sharp emotions can be caused by a wide range of factors – from prevailing circumstances to personal motivations. But there are five leading factors around which outbreaks occur:

  • aggression on the “system”: economy, bureaucracy, leader, environment;
  • aggression to deliberate injustice;
  • aggression due to intentional or unintentional obstruction on the way to achieving goals;
  • aggression on features and signs that are perceived as dishonesty;
  • aggression arising from hierarchical relationships.

Managing your own anger

Before you try to lead aggression in a team or organization, you need to understand and curb your own aggression. If you lead an active life, engage in career development and interact with a large number of people, you cannot isolate yourself from every external stimulus. From time to time you will receive less than you want. You do not conclude every transaction and do not complete all the work on time. You will probably have to work with people who are less competent, honest, and responsible than you. Surely there will be at least one client who has power over you. And you will probably find that you are overwhelming others with your power.

It doesn’t matter that you try hard to avoid aggression, because there are times when you still break down. First of all, it is important to know people and understand the circumstances that cause aggression in you, and learn to identify the early signals of destructive behavior.

Take it easy . The first step that is important to take is to try to calm down. It doesn’t matter how you do it: through exercise, breathing exercises, talking or singing. Your goal is to relax so that you are physically unable to behave aggressively. Just 5-10 minutes is enough for this.

Start thinking. This is important to do before you begin to speak or act. Remind yourself that aggression distorts your attitude. Be prepared to go through the cognitive restructuring process. As soon as you stop thinking about your aggression in this vein, you will aim to fulfill the task associated with aggression.

Express aggression. Having calmed down physically and having realized the situation logically, you should already know what made you angry and why. In addition, you should have a balanced view of the situation. Most importantly, you understand what you want to achieve.

Express your anger in the right words to the right person at the right time. Listen carefully. Do not be distracted or interrupt. Hear what the other person is saying.

Look for solutions. Try to find the root causes of your anger. Can you change them?

Contact with an aggressive person

At the workplace, you interact with many people – customers, salespeople, colleagues, subordinates and managers. Any of them can get angry for various reasons. You must draw conclusions in all circumstances.

In most cases, aggression in the workplace is unpredictable due to disagreements in tasks or as a result of other people’s actions. If you, being a manager, are present at the same time, you cannot but respond to what is happening.

It is important not to fall into the two most common traps:

  • Do not ignore or block aggression through non-verbal communication, trying to show that aggression is bad.
  • Do not try to shout down an angry man and suppress his anger with your aggression.

If an aggressive person harms the process directly or indirectly, it must be removed from work and assisted. In most cases, you can try to resolve the situation immediately and in the long run to understand the root causes.

Gather information. Try to get facts from two independent sources. If you cannot find meaningful answers, contact the people involved. Remember that they can distort information. Do not play the role of judge. Gathering information, you are just trying to determine the main source of aggression.

Make an appointment. It is better to talk with a problem interlocutor in neutral territory. Make an appointment not immediately, but after a while, so that there is time to prepare for a difficult conversation. Choose a time when both of you can freely discuss the situation.

Show interest. When meeting a problem person, your main task is to listen to him. Let the person express aggression with his words. Listen carefully, but do not interrupt. Try to gather more information. During the meeting, you must show the interlocutor respect, objectivity, flexibility and tolerance.

Evaluate the situation and take action. If the source of aggression is identified as a result of the conversation, then specific measures must be taken. Rate the situation. Is aggression really legitimate? If so, is human behavior appropriate for the situation? Take action on questions one and two.

First, provide constructive feedback. If a person has behaved appropriately, a positive relationship will be appropriate. If aggression was expressed in an unacceptable way, then this should also be said.

Secondly, look for solutions to the root cause of aggression. Listen carefully to assess the situation and take concrete steps to resolve the conflict.

Contacts with aggression in an organization or team

If you are in a leadership position, you should evaluate the workplace in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you can cope with aggression in yourself and other people, but it’s more difficult to manage it in teams and organizations, since a destructive state tends to spread from one person to another, and this happens due to systemic reasons.

In standard business practice, some factors make people feel underestimated, so they can become a trigger for a growing conflict:

  • arbitrariness
  • strict rules
  • rigid hierarchy
  • authoritarian managers
  • one way communication
  • limited amount of information to use
  • closed competition
  • narrow territorial boundaries
  • maximum limited autonomy of personality
  • insufficient remuneration for good work

People are much less prone to aggression when a company has a reasonable level of control over work schedules, tasks, responsibilities, there is room for growth and a decent compensation system is in place.

Most people attach great importance to two-way communication. They want to be able to speak out on issues that affect them directly and indirectly. In addition, they want to receive recognition and reward when they make a valuable contribution to the company. It is worth noting that, although the methods of the whole organization have a huge impact on healthy relationships in teams, the strongest factor remains the relationship between leaders and their direct subordinates. When managers are well informed about what is happening, are involved in processes and are sensitive to problems, they manage to build trusting relationships with their subordinates.

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