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Part III: Aggressive Managers

Part III: Aggressive Managers

How Many Ways Are There to Hurt You?

Aggressive behavior is behavior that unjustifiably harms another. An aggressive manager either intends to do harm or is willing to do harm to obtain an objective. Types of harm may include damaging someone’s reputation, career, goals, emotional state, or health. Harmful behavior includes unusual displays of anger; unwarranted attacks on someone’s decency or ability, either to her face or behind her back; attempts to damage her career or reputation; and refusal to comply with reasonable requests that cause the person significant difficulty. An aggressive manager will attack your capabilities and reputation, ignore your prerogatives, take what he wants, and line your path with obstacles.

There is a lot of aggression in organizations. We cannot stop it, but we can decrease it and limit the extent to which we are the target. To do this, it is important to know what drives aggression, why certain people are chosen as targets, and what can deter an aggressor.

Aggression is driven both by frustrations that are inherent in working in organizations and by competition to advance one’s personal and work agenda. Most people experience these feelings. Most of us are aggressive at times. Not everyone, however, acts on these feelings in ways that are markedly unfair and hurt others. Some people seem to have an unusual talent for stepping on those around them. An individual’s personality traits, moral beliefs, and the culture in which she works and lives have a tremendous impact on how aggressively she acts at work.

Underneath aggression may be narcissistic or rigid personality traits. Narcissism brings a lack of empathy for others’ positions and lack of respect for others’ rights. These release the manager from the normal inhibitions people have on behaving aggressively. Narcissistic managers are also prone to rage when their sense of being better than others is challenged. Rigid personality traits lead to aggression by making it hard for an individual to compromise. Rigid managers push hard for what they want, and are willing to get into a battle if need be to have their way.

Problems with mood, stress, and attention can also foster aggressive behavior. Depression and anxiety foster irritability and can lead to angry outbursts. Part of the syndrome of attention deficit disorder is impulsivity and poor frustration tolerance, both of which can lead to angry outbursts. Traumatic experiences can markedly increase a manager’s aggressive behavior by leading to increased fears of the world, hypervigilance, irritability, and a tendency to startle easily.

An emotional intelligence approach to dealing with aggression begins with understanding what lies underneath the behavior. The right strategy for one personality type is likely to backfire if used for a different personality type. Moreover, successful treatment of depression and anxiety (with either cognitive behavioral therapy or medication) or of ADHD can often significantly improve functioning. More often than not, these issues are not recognized or treated.

The Many Faces of Aggression

Some people divide aggression into two types: hot and cold. Hot aggression includes those who are upset when they hurt you. Cold aggression refers to those who are calm and calculating.

There are two types of hot aggression. The most commonly talked about situation is the irritable person who lashes out in frustration or revenge. Another type of hot aggression involves people who have no desire to hurt you but are frazzled and accidentally run over you. These are the stereotypical bulls in a china shop who do a great deal of damage unintentionally, often without even realizing it.

Part III Overview

The chapters in Part III cover a variety of types of aggression (see Table III-1 and Table III-2). Chapter 7 begins by discussing ruthless managers—cold and calculating cutthroats who will manipulate, scapegoat, and under-mine others without remorse. They have significant narcissistic and antisocial personality traits. Rather than acting out of anger, they attack you to get you out of the way. They have no scruples about how they remove you. Chapter 8 discusses bullying managers. They are also very narcissistic and antisocial. They seek to attain a sense of power by intimidating you. Homicidal managers (Chapter 9) are more intense versions of ruthless and bul-lying managers. They are often driven by paranoia or narcissistic rage.

Table III-1. Overview of Aggressive Managers
Types of AggressionFeeling When AggressiveSituations Driving Aggressive BehaviorPerspective on Own BehaviorPredisposing Personality Traits
RuthlessCalmDesire for a goalRemorseless or feels justified by greater goodNarcissistic, compulsive, authoritarian
VolatileAngryFrustrated or threatenedSometimes feels justified, sometimes sorryBorderline
BulliesEnjoys it; outwardly angryDesire to hurt and dominate or get revengeRemorselessNarcissistic, psychopathic; very limited conscience (superego)
HomicidalCalm or angryDesire to get rid of an obstacle or get revengeFeels justifiedNarcissistic or paranoid, may be psychotic
FranticAgitatedPressure to get a lot doneClueless, or feels it is necessaryHypomanic: anxiety disorder
Passive-aggressiveQuietly angry, feels weakDislikes someone else deciding what to doFeels justifiedDiscomfort with being assertive
Sexual harassment: CluelesscalmProblems in education and cultural backgroundFeels remorsefulLow emotional intelligence
Sexual harassment: AngryPowerful, angry, threatenedFeels threatened and wants to dominate womenFeels justifiedSociopathic, narcissistic
ChauvinistsRetaliatory, strongFeels threatenedFeels justifiedNarcissistic



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