Using Empathy to Navigate Difficult Workplace Behavior [Video]

Core Values Series

With the global pandemic, physical and mental health, and many other worries, the workforce is still feeling stressed. One of Gate 39 Media’s core values is empathy, and it plays a big role in helping us understand and manage difficult behaviors in colleagues or clients that may stem from stress. The key to navigating this behavior may lie in meeting them where they are emotionally. 

Here are some tips to leverage empathy when interacting with three types of difficult behaviors. 

Aggressive Behavior 

When working with aggressive people who may feel threatening, always remain calm. Have a discussion with the person using depersonalized communication. Don’t be afraid to assert authority in conversations, and if the aggressor tries to interrupt you, let them know you’ll finish your point and then will allow them to respond.  

Remember, asserting control doesn’t mean neglecting your empathy. Continue to focus on the other person without letting them steamroll you. If you believe the situation could escalate, ask someone who the aggressor holds in high regard to assist.  

Passive Behavior

A passive person will often avoid taking responsibility for something related to a stressful trigger for them. In working with a passive person, provide plenty of notice that a conversation will be taking place. Surprises do not go over well with passive people. Set your communication expectations up front so your conversation is productive. And select a space that allows you to really hear and empathize with them.  

While in conversation, focus on their nonverbal communication and provide them with specific action tasks and due dates. Keep communication direct and expectations tempered.  

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive people can be either too passive or too aggressive. If you notice someone acting unusually quiet, insulting, or forgetful, this person may be exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior.  

First, don’t let passive-aggressive actions get to you. This is key to managing this type of behavior. Try invoking empathy and offering positive assertions while still confronting the issue. Do not apologize to them but ensure that you hold them accountable without judgment or blame. 

When on a virtual call, turn your camera on and make eye contact. This can help open human connection and empathy. By identifying passive or aggressive behaviors you may also tend to exhibit, you’ll find common ground to better empathize with this person.  

At the end of the day, being aware of these behavior types in colleagues or clients and knowing how to use empathy in handling them can help maintain a happy and productive workplace. 


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