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Chapter 13. Assertiveness > Asserting Yourself with Aggressive People

Asserting Yourself with Aggressive People

One big source of stress, whether at your workplace or in your personal life, is having to deal with aggressive, unreasonable, or nasty individuals. When dealing with such people, it is common to feel as if you have no control and to become angry and aggressive yourself. The following pointers should prove useful for handling encounters with aggressive people.

  • Make ample use of empathic assertion. Try paraphrasing what you have heard the person say or commenting on the feelings that are being expressed in their demeanor. For example, simple comments such as, “You sound like you are feeling very angry,” or, “This is obviously very upsetting for you,” can help an angry person feel understood, and in some cases can help defuse his or her anger. It is also helpful to ask questions to get the person to clarify the problem and work toward a solution.

  • Keep your focus. Aggressive interactions, particularly with people you know well, often get sidetracked from the original issue with laundry lists of everything else that is a problem. Work to bring the focus back to the issue at hand. Use phrases such as, “We've gotten off the subject. You were talking to me about….”

  • Postpone the discussion until cooler heads prevail. If you and/or the other person are enraged, and it does not look as though either of you will cool off soon, it may be wise to suggest discussing the matter later when both of you have calmed down. If the other person refuses to delay, explain that you need time to think about the issue, and make a definite appointment to discuss it as soon as possible.

  • Try the broken-record technique. In an ordinary situation calling for an assertive response, the broken-record technique could come off as obnoxious. But when dealing with an aggressive person who refuses to listen to your assertive response, and who fails to respond to your efforts at escalation, this technique can come in handy to reinforce your request. Basically it involves repeating your request over and over, like a broken record, even if the other person is arguing, or ranting and raving. You just calmly continue to state your request, even during his or her protestations. It often involves being willing to interrupt. All parents have had to rely on this method at times when dealing with resistance or disobedience from children.


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