Coworker being aggressive during meeting - Hays Viewpoint, careers advice blog

Over the course of your career, you’ve likely worked with counterparts who are respectful, collaborative, and with whom you get along fabulously. You’re also likely to run into counterparts decidedly less pleasant to interact with. They may be rude, condescending, insulting or aggressive – or all four.

In these challenging circumstances, achieving a successful negotiation result for yourself or your organisation can be especially draining and difficult. So, here’s my expert advice on navigating those tricky situations:

Seek to understand

Trying to understand what’s prompting the aggressive behaviour in a counterpart isn’t easy, but it is incredibly helpful. Seeking to understand the behaviour will help you prepare thoroughly for the negotiation and remind you that you shouldn’t take this behaviour personally.

Perhaps your counterpart is feeling threatened, and this behaviour is their ego’s way of asserting itself. They may also be under severe pressure from their stakeholders to bring back a specific result, and this aggression is a tactic to put you on the back foot and gain the upper hand in the negotiations. Sometimes, a private matter may have reached the boiling point in their lives and you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s important to note that understanding the behaviour doesn’t mean condoning or accepting the behaviour. Tapping into your empathy, and understanding what may be driving this behaviour is important in preparing yourself for taking action to end it.

The two options for handling an aggressive counterpart:

  1. Ignore it
    Chances are, your counterpart is looking for a reaction from you. Anger, frustration – even to match their own insulting behaviour. Don’t give it to them. Don’t react. Don’t respond. Just continue as if nothing is happening. If their aggression was a tactic to throw you off your game, they’ll see that it’s not working and stop. If their behaviour was an outburst, they’ll soon burn themselves out without any fuel being added to their flame.
  2. Call it out
    Keeping your cool during a barrage of attacks from a counterpart is difficult. But keeping your cool and taking action to end their behaviour can be even more so. Your goal in calling out the aggression is to make their behaviour the issue. For example, you can do this by saying “Can we all agree to try and diffuse this atmosphere?” or “Would you like me to call a break? You seem to have a lot of hostility towards me and I would like to resolve it.”

Interrupting the behaviour like this gives both of you the opportunity to calm down, and address the issue head on, and then regroup to focus your efforts on achieving the best possible outcome in your negotiation.

Read my book to find out more about how to negotiate with intelligence, flexibility and power.

This blog was co-authored by Nathalie Reynolds (@AdvSpringCEO), CEO of advantageSPRING and Devon Smiley (@AdvSpringDevon), Head of North America at advantageSPRING.

To find out more about the 1 and 2 day negotiation programmes that the team at advantageSPRING deliver for corporates around the world and to see testimonials from clients visit or e-mail

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Natalie Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of advantageSPRING (, a specialist negotiation training company working with corporate clients around the world. A barrister by training, Natalie spent 12 years in roles across the public sector and in central Government before moving to work as a Commercial Director for a FTSE 100 company. Prior to establishing advantageSPRING, Natalie worked for one of her now competitors delivering commercial negotiation training to executives in Europe and North America. A recognised thought leader on the topic of negotiation, she has appeared in the Guardian, Huffington Post and Financial Times and delivered seminars internationally. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @AdvSpringCEO