A corporate manager recently reached out to me for advice on how to handle aggressive behavior in the workplace. Here’s what happened:
This manager (let’s call her Sharon for privacy’s sake) is having an issue with someone in her workplace during meetings. The issue involves two of her co-workers, let’s call them George and Paul. George is less experienced than Sharon, but they get along and work well together.
Then there’s Paul.
Paul is a favourite of the leadership team. He can say disparaging remarks and get away with it. Essentially, he can do no wrong. Of course, Paul is the one getting under Sharon’s skin. Rather than asking Sharon for her input during meetings, Paul only asks George for his input.
Here’s what you need to know about people like Paul: They are driven by ego. They condescend to other people because it makes them feel better. In fact, putting other people down is sometimes the reason why people like Paul get into positions of power in the first place.
So, how should Sharon deal with Paul?
You and Sharon both need to know this: When you start arguments with bullies, the bully usually wins. That’s why I never recommend battling this type of condescending behavior head on. Here are three things to do instead:
Step #1 Don’t Engage
– Do not write them an email.
– Do not walk into their office.
– Do. Not. Engage.
Instead, think logically. How can you actually solve this problem? Because the question I have for you is this: do you want to be right, or do you want to be heard? If you actually want to be heard in this situation, then you need to let go of being right. So, I encouraged Sharon to let go of Paul and his condescending behavior and start to think about the ways she can go around him.
Step #2 Create Allies
– Next, focus on the right individuals.
– Who are those people who already like you and have your back?
Remember, George and Sharon get along well, so I advised Sharon to have a direct, focused conversation with George before their next meeting with Paul. I told Sharon to present what she’d like to discuss during the meeting and ask George to back her up. That way, when Paul asks George for his input, George can support Sharon by saying: “You know what? Sharon shared some things with me before the meeting. Let’s have her start.”
Step #3 Knock it Out of the Park
Once Sharon advances her career, Paul and his bad behavior will be a thing of the past. So stop ruminating over problematic people and start ruminating over your job. You’ve disengaged from the situation. You’ve created allies. Now, your mission is to come up with great ideas and do the mindset work you’ll need to land your next promotion.