HR Management & Compliance

Strategies for Dealing with Hostile People in the Workplace

So, you are dealing with a hostile coworker, colleague, or team member. According to the research, you are not alone. With one study showing that nearly one in five American workers report exposure to hostile or threatening social environments at work—such as verbal abuse or threats, humiliating behavior, bullying, and harassment—it is clear that we need empowered strategies for handling workplace dissonance more than ever.

Whether you are advising others as an employer or manager or dealing with workplace frictions yourself, conflict and combative relationships do not have to escalate and can often be changed with some simple strategies.

Here are 6 strategies for dealing with difficult workplace relationships from an empowered perspective.

Acknowledge the Situation from a Neutral Stance

A highly common response to hostile behavior is either reaction or avoidance: ignore it or downplay it and quietly hope for change. Or react, blame, and judge, which only generates more of what is probably already occurring. Neither reaction instigates positive change. The first step forward is to acknowledge the situation without adding a value judgment, taking sides, or pretending it’s OK.

Recognize It’s Not Personal

When aggressive, unkind, or difficult behavior shows up in a person, one thing those on the receiving end often do is immediately wonder what they did to warrant the negative attention. It is not unusual for people to go straight to thinking, “What did I say or do wrong? Why do they keep treating me this way? Could I have done something different to stop that?” They will judge themselves and start believing they are the problem or source for the bad behavior and waste a lot of time speculating about what they said or did wrong to create the situation when it most likely had nothing to do with them. In reality, another person’s behavior or choices are not personal, even if they want you to believe they are. The recipient is often just a convenient target.

You Always Have Choices

When someone chooses to see himself or herself as powerless and the effect of another person’s choices, it creates a victim mind-set, and it becomes easy to get stuck in the belief that he or she  lacks empowered choices. Every individual can choose to be happy and maintain a sense of enjoyment at work. You do not have to lose that because of someone else’s behavior. Look at the choices, actions, and conversations that are empowering and put attention on enhancing those. Ask questions like, “What choices do I actually have here that I haven’t considered?”

Don’t Anticipate the Worst

The majority of stress in dealing with bad behavior is often the mental anticipation of when and where it will happen next. Using memories and past reference points to predict the present and immediate future leads to a buildup and increase in the level of stress, resentment, and anger over time. Choose to see every interaction with that person as a clean slate rather than approaching him or her with anger and frustration due to the past. This simple change of attitude, in itself, can help resolve a lot of tension.

Be Grateful for That Person

Resentment, anger, and tension dissolve when they are given less attention in favor of gratitude. Gratitude may seem too “fluffy” to call a strategy, but it can have a powerful and dynamic effect when implemented. Gratitude allows a person to see the contribution that anyone and anything can be—regardless of how it appears or shows up. Dealing with a negative person or circumstance from gratitude rather than from judgment can generate positive (and often much required) change. Ask, “What can I be grateful for about this person and situation? What contribution could it be to me and others?”

Look at What Is Possible, Not at What Isn’t Possible

Every situation can change—but you can’t always predict or determine how. Rather than develop expectations of how it should be handled or changed, put attention on what can be possible rather than what you have decided is not possible. This does not mean settling for a bad situation or not demanding change. It is about creating what works for you from a more empowered position. Ask questions like, “Where can I go and who can I talk to that would give me information and contribute to changing this?” and “What else is possible here that I have not considered or imagined?” Changing a difficult situation is often a lot faster if you look for questions, information, and opportunities, rather than fixating on problems and obstacles. Sometimes, the most elegant solutions and outcomes are the most unexpected ones, so keep an open mind and ask questions.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to change even the most combative work relationships. Adopt an empowered mind-set based on these six strategies, and put attention on choices, nonjudgment, and looking at what is truly possible to shift conflicts, dissolve tensions, and create previously unconsidered resolutions.

After completing her social work studies in Vienna, worked with children, homeless people, delinquent teenagers, and prisoners transitioning back into the real world. Today, she travels the world teaching and supporting people to be more of themselves. Her Being You classes are delivered in both live and online settings. Follow Schachenhofer here and on Instagram.

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