How to respond to aggressive behavior

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Before we jump into what actions we can take to respond to agressive behavior, let’s define it first:

Agression is one of the anger styles which is aimed at harming a person or animal, or damaging physical property.

You have most likely witnessed the following behavioral patterns:

  • Acts of physical violence;
  • Shouting, swearing, and harsh language;
  • Gossiping or teasing someone;
  • Throwing or damaging an object.
  • Ignoring someone on purpose (yes, this one is also a sign of aggressive behavior);
  • Intentionally excluding a person to make them feel bad.

To be clear, violence is a subtype of aggression. All violent acts are agressive, but not all agressive behaviors are violent. For example, screaming and swearing at another person is aggressive but not violent.

How should you respond to agressive behavior?

Unless a person is being physically hostile towards you, I suggest giving them plenty of space and time. You are not calling for a conflict if you don’t add wood to the fire and avoid a response to begin with, meaning it may be best not to say anything that can instigate a progression of agressive behavior. It is wise to hear them out for you to make a good judgment.

If you want to respond, give yourself enough time to think to minimize the chances of making an impression you are being aggressive yourself. Even one word or gesture can make a difference. Make sure that your response is brief (just a few words). It needs to be informative (say what you want to say in a neutral way) and friendly but firm at the same time. You want to show the person you are not there to make their life harder or that you are there for them to tease or harass you. Giving them a reason to explore other options to escalate the situation can be damaging to your relationship whether it’s at home, workplace, or school. Getting along with others may be difficult but it is possible!

In some cases you may need to turn to someone for help which can be a life-savior for some people. If you are feeling threatened, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are people that will support you and help you resolve the problem. You are worthy of love and respect, not conflict and violence. Not everyone understands that people should be respected no matter what happens between them which is why don’t let anyone hurt you if it is possible to take control one way or another before it becomes someone’s habit.

How to control aggressive behavior.

I had an agressive and almost violent scene at work about 6 months ago. I worked with a female who was on medication, what she said, which to me seemed like methamphetamines instead based on her behavior and symptoms. Prior to that experience, I had never seen anyone as aggressive. Long story short, we were having an issue with equipment that was causing product waste. While I was working on resolving the issue, I needed someone in the position where the product was falling on the floor. All she needed to do was push the product further down the line until maintenance fixed it.

That day the employee was extremely energized, incoherent in her speech and the way she acted made me concerned from the moment she came in, but I had no actual reason to take my concerns any further. I thought to myself she could be the best person to put in that position. I assumed the energy burst she was having could help since we needed someone to act quickly and she needed something to do with that energy. She seemed calm but, like I said, with a lot of energy. Well, my assumption was wrong.

At some point, the employee started having a breakdown which she expressed to me by saying, “Hey, I can’t do this! Do you want come here and do it yourself?!” in a tone that indicated to me she was about to lose it. Those were the only two sentences I comprehended throughout the day. I knew there was something going on with her. I did mention to her that I would take her position in a few minutes which I was going to. She yelled something towards me and that’s when I walked out to get my boss involved.

I did not expect this to happen!

When I got to the office, it was empty. I called my boss and not even 10 seconds later that employee stormed in and started incoherently screaming at me, so fast that I still wonder what that was all about.

She positioned herself so that most of her body was far away from me with her fists clenched and her head was leaning towards my face. I felt so threatened and was ready to protect myself. My adrenaline started increasing and my heartbeat went “pum-pum-pum” which seemed like a million beats per minute. Anxiety prevailed and I panicked. Not so much from her possibly hitting me but from me responding the same or worse. I was afraid to lose control which could cost me my job with one of us in a hospital. I didn’t want it to escalate but what helped me prevent this was my body position and what I said.

My body expressed the need in being Jacky Chan, and I had my right arm stretched out to keep distance between the two of us so she couldn’t get any closer (all of that happened involuntarily but I trusted myself). The phrase I repeatedly said was “It’s ok”. For about a minute (which felt like infinity) she continued to scream and stump her feet. Her breathing became so heavy I thought she was going to have a heart attack, but I kept my position until my boss came in and asked us what happened.

She shouted out something we couldn’t understand and flew out of the office. When I explained everything to my boss, he called her in but she was in a state of absolute madness. After a few attempts to have a peaceful conversation with her, she ran out and nobody ever saw her again.

What I learned that day.

“Not every situation requires a response that expresses how I feel during the conflict”.

I didn’t ask the person to calm down and listen to what I had to say. I didn’t ask her for understanding. In that specific case the employee’s vision and listening were completely blocked and any attempts to redirect her attention were pointless. She needed to let it out despite the fact that I was feeling threatened. She didn’t realize it due to her focus being primarily on her own feelings and emotions. I get that. That’s what we instinctively do until we learn to observe our own and people’s emotions and become aware of how they affect us and our relationships with others.

All this woman needed was to walk away and calm down on her own. If I said more than I had said to her, she could’ve easily punched me for not listening to her. Even though I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. She could’ve assumed I was looking for a conflict and put her in that position on the line. Whatever medication or drugs she was on, it clouded her reasoning and I had to act accordingly.

Observation extremely helped me avoid a potentially violent scene and, luckily, nobody got hurt. I chose to remain neutral but firm in my position so that she didn’t feel that she was dominating. Even though my body was having all sorts of sensations that indicated to me I needed time to respond friendly.


Whether you are a victim of agression at home or workplace, always give yourself time to asses what’s happening. The goal is not to win the argument but to avoid it. It is to reach understanding between you and other people. In other words, you mitigate the risk of the conflict reoccurring. Being as neutral as possible will decrease your chances of experiencing violence.

Let me know in the comments below how you resolved conflicts. If you are experiencing aggression towards yourself and aren’t sure how to deal with it, you can email me:

Thank you for taking the time reading this post. I hope you find it helpful!

Stay tuned for more!


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