What do you do when you have an emotional reaction at work?

How do you deal with people who display aggressive or passive behaviour at work?

It’s tricky, isn’t it?

I am just back from running workshops across Australia, and that was one of the challenges that many of the attending leaders struggle with.

This comes up A LOT in my work.

Because if leadership was only about managing budgets, crunching numbers and designing winning strategies, we’d have noooo trouble mastering it.

But it’s not.

It’s much more about how we lead OTHERS.
And in leading them, how we manage OURSELVES in those interactions.

When we deal with certain types of behaviours or situations – we often react in the moment, particularly if we are more extroverted. Maybe we end up being the aggressive ones, or maybe we respond passively to an aggressive attitude.

We react this way for *good* reasons.

We might choose to respond passively because we want to avoid difficult conversations or situations, avoid conflict or keep everything (and everyone) calm. But it leaves us feeling disappointed with ourselves for losing control of the situation.

Or we get aggressive when we are trying to get our own way and ‘win’ a debate. It might feel good in the moment, but the aftermath is equally heavy – self-righteousness (well, someone had to do it), guilt, defensiveness.

In both cases we will tend to isolate ourselves from situations that make us emotionally reactive, or others in our team will do it for us.

We change jobs, take ourselves off committees or risk others complaining about us.

As leaders, there is a skill we can – and need to – develop to prevent this: ASSERTIVENESS.

It can look like…

  • being comfortable saying what we want or need
  • not trying to override what other people want or need
  • holding boundaries
  • feeling ok about giving and receiving feedback
  • being able to say no.

So, do you feel like you are assertive? Or is this an area that could do with some work?

It takes a lot of self-awareness — and humility – to acknowledge that your emotional reactions to work situations could be more supportive of what you’re trying to achieve. As a human and as a leader.

I work with leaders who identify assertiveness as an area they’d like to grow in all the time. Together…

  • we establish what the key issue is (not always obvious when you’re in the middle of it)
  • we make a plan
  • and they start practicing and implementing better ways to lead (with hands-on support from me).

We do this inside a container we call Quick(ish) Fix.

It’s quickish because it takes time to strengthen our emotional response ‘muscles’ so we are not reacting, but instead using our self awareness to respond appropriately.

When we do this we not only engage more effectively in difficult conversations, we also role model to our team the behaviours we want from them.

And while it’s not that quick, the trust we build by remaining calm and engaged helps our whole team learn how to respond. This is always going to be more effective than hoping the problem will go away in time. (In my experience, it never really does that on its own). If working on being more assertive (or other aspects of your leadership) is something you’d like support with, I invite you to have a completely obligation-free chat. Asking for help is what a great leader does after all.

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