Have you noticed that customers and employees have become more assertive, indeed aggressive? They’ve been taught and trained to stand up for what they want and not take “no” for an answer. While it’s helpful for people to express what they want, many persons lack the skills in how to do so effectively. Often, by the time they gird up the courage to complain, they’ve become agitated and angry. These circumstances pose challenges for managers and businesses. What can we do to respond constructively?

How we deal with conflict dramatically affects our business performance and personal satisfaction. A difficult work relationship or a complaining customer can be a continuing thorn in our side or an opportunity to energize positive action.

Far too often managers confront the other person and try to change the person or his or her views. This is logical and assertive but very energy consuming. It’s like trying to stop a charging bull in its tracks.

Some managers avoid conflict altogether. Others plead that they can’t do anything and dodge the issue.

Frequently, a more effective approach is to shift the situation. My friends who practice the martial art of Aikido know the defensive advantages of using another person’s energy to turn aggressive thrusts aside. What I’m suggesting is a variation that melds the other person’s energy with your own to move in a shared direction.

Here are some practical steps and examples of how you can apply these principles in business situations.

  • Explore a range of responses to aggressive behavior. Experience different approaches at both an intellectual and a visceral level. This will help you to recognize patterns when they arise. Use both your mind and your awareness of your body’s reactions to change situations.

Find someone you can practice with and ask them to come straight at you with arms forward in an aggressive movement. Try the “battle” response where you grab the other person’s hands and try to keep them from moving forward. What are the results? How does it feel?

A talented professional found himself in a situation like this when his demanding boss complained about his work. They each defended their positions and marshaled support from others. The battle was on, and their working relationship deteriorated.

Another approach is to evade or withdraw. Have your partner approach in the same way. This time run away from his or her advance. How do you feel about ducking out on the situation? You’re safe for now, but you haven’t resolved the issue.

Customer service at a high-tech products company took this approach when customers complained that they couldn’t use a product everywhere they wanted. A limitation on a supplier’s component prevented the product from working under certain conditions. Customer service said, “It’s not our fault.” Although a true statement, it didn’t satisfy customers who kept pressing the company to take responsibility for the problem.

A third mode of response is to plead for mercy. Have your partner approach you again. This time fall on your knees and ask them to stop. How does this feel?

When the customer service personnel tried to mollify customers by offering them their money back, it didn’t work. Customers still wanted the product, but they wanted it to work under all of the circumstances where they needed to use it.

A fourth approach, and typically the most effective one, is to engage the other person and redirect the energy to a shared purpose. Have your aggressive partner approach you again. This time reach out and clasp hands with them and move in the direction they are headed or swing them with you at an angle. Notice how much easier this is?

  • Develop creative ways to engage and redirect challenging people. Unless you share no common interest with the other person, this tactic works best.

For example, the talented professional described earlier redirected his boss’ demands. He shifted the discussion from who’s right and who’s wrong to a shared set of objectives and ways they could work together to meet one another’s needs. When they moved out of the battle model, they also attracted interest and support from others for their common goals.

The high-tech products company shifted its approach to customer complaints and welcomed customer input about conditions where its product didn’t work. The company took this information to its supplier and found out what it would take to improve performance. With this information, the company told its customers what level of new product orders it needed to get the supplier to invest in improvements. The company and its customers moved forward together to reach a solution.

In today’s business environment, the simple “fight or flight” response programmed in our primal brains doesn’t serve our needs. Examine how you respond to aggressive behavior and look for ways to engage and redirect aggressive energy to achieve positive results.


Copyright © 2017 Don Maruska