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How to Deal with an Aggressive Co-Worker

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An aggressive co-worker can take many forms, ranging from someone who tries to control a conversation or meeting to someone who assumes tasks well outside of his level of responsibility or is just plain hostile. In any form, working with an aggressive co-worker can have many negative impacts. Some colleagues experience mental and emotional strain, may become physically ill, or even decide to leave a job they were once excited about. By using a few key strategies, you can manage and minimize these workplace issues.

Resist Reaction

When dealing with an aggressive co-worker, the worst response is to react immediately and with intense emotion. People tend to say things they regret when they are offended or angry. Take a few deep breaths and count to10 before reacting. The simple factor of time can help calm your emotions and increase your objectivity, letting you respond with better judgment. Whether it's in a meeting or in the office hallway, make the decision that you will not respond to comments without first breathing deeply and giving yourself a 10-count.

Keep Notes

If negative interactions with an aggressive co-worker are a regular event, document them in detail. Even if you don't share this information with anyone right away, keep detailed notes about what happened. Make note of the time, date and location of the incident as well as the specific negative outcomes, such as keeping you from completing a task or assignment. These notes can be valuable when making your case to a manager or human resources. Think in financial as well as emotional terms. Consider the cost to the organization, such as lost productivity when your dealings with an aggressive co-worker cause you and others to fall behind on your work.

Seek Some Context

In a column for "Psychology Today," communications expert Preston Ni recommends distinguishing between the person and the problem. Approaching tense relationships by focusing on the issue, rather than the individual, can de-escalate conflict. For example, consider saying, "I know you have something important to say, but I think this conversation is getting a little heated. Can we regroup later today to talk about this problem once we've had time to think about it?" By staying away from personal attacks, you can garner more cooperation and possibly improve the relationship.

Tell Your Story Well

According to the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, many workplace victims face skepticism from co-workers and managers when trying to resolve ongoing conflicts with colleagues and are labeled as "problem employees." To avoid this dilemma, consider a few strategies when voicing your concerns to human resources or management. Stay calm and composed, speak in an even voice and keep your emotions in check. You must be able to back up your claims with specific details of an aggressive co-worker's behavior, and how it has impacted your work life. Finally, show that you are able to empathize with the situation by stating that you can understand why your coworker might sometimes respond this way, even though it's inexcusable. Finally, reiterate your own strengths such as patience, rational problem solving and a desire to reduce unnecessary tension in the workplace.