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7 Tips for Handling Hostility Wisely

Learn how to effectively respond to mean behavior.

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It's amazing how poorly people can behave, especially when it comes to money. Passions run high and manifest through their speech. You would think when something is so important that people would behave wisely, but the opposite tends to be true. Money stirs issues of being not important, which stirs emotions, which stirs vicious speech. When working in the business world, you would do well to learn how to wisely and effectively respond to mean .

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Related: Good Manners Are a Career and Business Necessity

Oftentimes, respectfully helping a person see their poor behavior is sufficient to change it. Once they realize how they are acting, they tend to back off, provided you hold up a mirror to what they are doing in a proper manner. The following points suggest a way to properly hold up the mirror -- allowing them to see how they are behaving -- as well as what not to do. The technique you choose depends upon the person you are dealing with, as well as your personal style. No article can tell you what your style is; you have to find it for yourself. These tips can help.

1. "It's not okay."

Sometimes a simple, firm, yet respectful statement like "It's not okay to speak that way" works well. You're simply letting the person know their behavior is not constructive but is, in fact, destructive and hurtful. If you can communicate these sorts of statements from a neutral, calm, yet firm stance, they will almost always hear it.

2. Just don't respond.

Sometimes the most effective way to hold up a mirror is to simply say nothing. When people are behaving badly, on some level deep inside, they know it. You might just be silent and not respond, perhaps looking down at the ground with a completely non-confrontational stance. What you're doing here is inviting them to take a look at how they are behaving. If they are really being hostile and continue to be aggressive, you might just respectfully walk away, saying, "Perhaps we should discuss this another time."

3. Don't inflame.

None of these points work if you are coming from a charged place of bitterness or resentment within yourself. When somebody is being vicious, being vicious back never works. All you do is inflame the situation and invite further confrontation. You may want to tell them off, but you gain nothing by doing that. If you need to rant and rave over how poorly you've been treated, do it when they are not around. Also, be sure you're not badmouthing or gossiping when you do it.

Related: 7 Steps for Maintaining Your Composure in Times of Chaos

4. Be the hero.

View another's boorish behavior as an opportunity to gain respect. If you handle the situation maturely, they will know it in their quiet moments of reflection afterward. Furthermore, other people will become aware of the dignity with which you handled the situation, and you will thereby gain respect.

5. Understanding and acknowledgement.

Let the person know you want to understand their feelings and perspective. If you don't understand them, ask for more information in a civil tone. They need to know that you really want to hear what they have to say. It's as if you're on the same side of the fence and are asking them for their help so you can understand them. Asking such questions can get them out of the anger mode and into the information mode. This can lead to problem solving the situation together.

6. Suggest consequences.

Simply point out that the bad-tempered behavior is undermining this person's ability to get what they want. Suggest the concept of "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Explain to them that people are much more inclined to be accommodating when dealt with kindly and respectfully. Bad-tempered behavior elicits the opposite response from what is desired and prevents people from wanting to deal with them in the future.

7. Talk to who they are.

Understand that offensive behavior is just on the surface of who they are. When speaking to them, talk to the deeper place within them -- the person with integrity, honor, conscience and feelings. Understand that there are delicate, vulnerable feelings that underlie the defensive or aggressive surface behavior.

Related: What to Do When Your Company Is Being Held 'Hostage' By a Toxic Employee


We would do well to reflect on how best to deal with hostile people based on our style. As part of that reflection, it can be good to review how we've dealt with hostile people in the past. Most all of us will see room for improvement and note the undesirable results when our response was not constructive. No one has a perfect track record of responding to poor behavior. So, we don't need to judge ourselves, but we can learn from our mistakes. Being great in the eyes of others is much simpler than we might think. Something as simple as dealing with hostile people wisely is an opportunity to gain respect from those we work with, as well as ourselves.

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