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"You Think I'm Being HOSTILE?!?"
Dealing with difficult people
Some people are assertive—overly assertive. In fact, many people perceive them as aggressive.
Some people are not usually perceived this way, but they are seen as angry or hostile when they are stressed, tired, burned-out, “hangry,” or otherwise “pushed out” of their comfort zone.
Notice the use of “perceive” in the previous sentences. This is important because the person may not see their own behavior as hostile—they may see it as a reasonable response to what THEY perceive as a hostile situation. It’s a whole walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes kind of thing.
When dealing with someone you perceive as hostile or aggressive, getting aggressive in response will usually escalate the situation. That usually makes things worse. Instead, keep a calm, level gaze and speak quietly, but with energy and confidence. Slowly. State. Each. Word. “That. Won’t. Work.” Keep it short and direct.
Do not “wilt.” Do not go silent. That rewards the hostile behaviors, since the person now may feel that they can “bulldoze” you to get their way.
Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Telling people to calm down often makes them get more upset. Give them the reassurance that the problem is understood and being addressed with statements like, “We’re on it.”
If repeated calm-but-with-energy statements don’t get them to also speak more calmly and quietly in response, it’s also okay to “red card” them. Saying something like, “This is not productive. We’ll talk again tomorrow.” and then hanging up or leaving the meeting room may show them that the “bulldozer” does not get the results they want. If it’s your Zoom meeting, you can toss them to the waiting room and continue the meeting without them.
If the hostility they express makes you or members of your team feel disrespected, that is a valid perspective. But is should be addressed AFTER the immediate and intense situation is passed, because the angry/hostile person can’t effectively understand in the heat of the moment. Talk to them about it when they are calmer.