How unpleasant is it to feel abused with words but not feel able to react? Let’s think about how we can get out of this vicious circle.
How many times have you ever dealt with an aggressive interlocutor? Whether it’s a manager, a colleague, or a member of your family, aggressive communication is a way of relating that no one likes.
However, in life, it can deal with such interlocutors, for example at work but also in the family.
What does a person do when they use an aggressive style?
There are behaviors because of verbal language, but especially to non-verbal language that emphasizes this style.
Let’s see some of them referring to verbal language.
Use of generalizations: “you are always…”; “you never do…”.
Use of judgment: “you are incapable”; “you are unpleasant”; “you always think you know everything,”.
Interpretations: “You say that because you can’t do it”; “You feel like crying because you know you were wrong,”.
Give a sermon: “I would have expected you to be more mature”; “you should be more careful what you say because you cannot handle situations,”.
Examples of non-verbal behaviors related to aggressive style :
Raising your tone of voice.
Interrupting turns of conversation; cutting off speech.
The contracted facial expression is often associated with redness.
Reduction of distance from the interlocutor.
Quick or explosive gestures (slamming doors, punching the table, etc.).
In addition, an aggressive interlocutor is often animated by feelings of anger or its derivatives (resentment, irritation, annoyance, etc.). This aspect has an important implication. When you are furious, how much can you listen? Not very much, I guess. This is true for every human being; emotions when they are strong, signals to the brain that it must alert because there is a possibility that it must force the person to flee or fight. Listening and thinking are two mental activities that, if you think about it, are not essential for the attack or flight (they waste time), and for this reason, our brain will inhibit them when alert. The result is that an angry person has profoundly inhibited his or her ability to listen and think.
So what to do?
So we are in the presence of a person who attacks us on a verbal and non-verbal level and does not listen to us. This is not a simple situation, but what can we do and what shouldn’t we do?
Avoid responding with an aggressive style: if I respond by raising my voice, generalizing and judging, the result will be to increase the escalation of the aggression. The other will attack. The problem that triggered the discussion will be lost sight of and communication will only be based on personal attacks. There is a misconception that by attacking the other or, even worse, blaming the other, the other will stop being aggressive. This is a trap; making the other person feel guilty and judged worsens the quality of the relationship and contributes to leaving problems unresolved.
Avoid responding in a passive style: it doesn’t matter what the other person’s role is, whether they are our manager, colleague, friend, or relative. Passively accepting infractions and judgments will only make the other person understand that with us, he or she can afford to do so.
Avoid “innuendo”: unfortunately, innuendo is a communication modality that I see often used but which is useless. Its effect, already negative, becomes even worse when you play a passive style followed by “innuendo”. It is an unclear communication in which one assumes that the other understands. However, the times when this happens are very rare because the other person often has a different view of what is right or wrong than we do.
Maintain eye contact: Why does one person have to raise their voice if they are five feet away from you? Because raising your voice is a way of asserting your power over us. Our responses (verbal and non-verbal) must go in the opposite direction, i.e. send a message of relational equality. Eye contact is the first element that determines relational symmetry or asymmetry.
Stay focused on the content: if there is a problem, stay focused on that without focusing on the staff. Otherwise, a destructive conflict will be triggered and the problem will persist. So, when faced with a “this job sucks”, report the problem to: “or in front of a sentence “it’s always the same thing” for example: “I understand that you are furious but let’s stay in this situation”.
Calmly state what you consider unacceptable. If a person offends us, they have no right to do so no matter what role they play, and no matter what mistake we have made. Accepting an offense or harassment leads the other person to believe they may do so. On a relational level, this is deeply negative because any human being, whether offended or judged, will be led to feel sad, mortified, guilty, ashamed, or angry. Regardless of who is right and wrong in a conflict, these emotions only have the effect of deteriorating the relationship and hindering personal and relational growth. So, if a person says, “You’re a liar,” we feel entitled to respond with empathy but also with confidence. For example: “I understand that you are furious and unhappy, but I don’t accept being offended.
Keep your positions: if we have decided, for example, with a client we must keep it so as not to lose credibility. If, for example, a client claims to receive a refund that we cannot give, we avoid expressions such as “if it was for me I would pay it back but the company rules don’t allow it”; they make us look like people who passively adapt to rules they don’t share. It is better to be empathetic but firm. For example: “I understand your point of view but I cannot reimburse you”; “the fact that he offends me does not change my position: reimbursement cannot be made to him”.
Put an affirmative stop: when we have a person who raises his voice, doesn’t listen, shouts, interrupts, and judges us, we can try to better understand what the specific problem is, we can understand his discomfort but if it doesn’t change things, the only solution is to point out the impossibility of having an exchange and postpone it.
Our own vision of us
The problem is that sometimes when someone approaches us aggressively, they trigger those internal “little voices” that we can carry with us all our lives. If, for example, I see myself as a person who cannot assert himself, without realizing it I will let this vision affect me, leading me to have automatic thoughts such as “if I respond I will make the situation worse”.
At other times you may have learned that when we are wrong, we are wrong as people; this leads us to accept crimes and judgments (“she’s right, I’m just an idiot”) and does not legitimize us to react.
It is not uncommon for us to react, for example, to an aggressive manager and be perceived as an action that puts our job in danger. In many years of business consulting, I have seen people fired for many reasons, but never because they asked not to be offended or to be interrupted while they were talking.
Similarly, in a relationship, the reaction can be seen as something that jeopardizes the relationship. Thus, to accept an offense or a negative judgment, we think that maybe the other person is also right because we can be in a bad mood and other such alibis. Paradoxically, the effect of accepting aggressive communication behaviors to avoid breaking up the relationship only makes it more likely; in fact, in the long run, it is uncertain that aggressive communication will stop but, on the contrary, it becomes more and more likely that it will increase. The results can be twofold: the deterioration of the relationship or the break-up of the relationship.
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