Skillset New Zealand Blog

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Can you tell the difference?

There is a fundamental difference between emotional and aggressive behaviour. They are very distinct and a different set of responses is required for each one, although unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s surprisingly easy to mix them up.

Let’s start with emotional behaviour – because in our everyday life that is what we see most often. Anger, sadness, grief and jealousy all fit into the broad term of emotional behaviour – and these emotions can become extreme. Stress, of course, can exacerbate all of it. However in broad terms, I like to think of emotions like weather – they are diverse and powerful and they come and they go as part of the necessary cycles of life. I’m not saying emotions are harmless – they can seem all consuming. Like a terrible storm, they can even harm. But their intent is not to harm – if emotional behaviour is de-escalated, like a terrible storm, it will pass. And that is the fundamental difference.

Aggressive behaviour, on the other hand, is very different. The aggressor intends to harm in some way. The aggression can be verbal, physical, psychological or a mix of several of these. The aggressor’s intention is to cause harm by hurting you physically, emotionally or psychologically. The other telltale sign of aggressive behaviour is that the ‘problem’ becomes the secondary consideration. You are now their problem.

For example, imagine that you are the bearer of bad news. When you tell this bad news to a colleague, an emotional response would be for them to yell into the sky in rage at the bad news. An aggressive response would be for them to yell directly at you, calling you names and thumping the desk.

It’s important to understand that aggressive behaviour isn’t just hitting and punching. It’s any behaviour that is intended to harm you and that includes name calling and intimidation.

Once someone becomes aggressive, they are focusing their attention on you. It’s no longer safe for you to keep engaging with them or trying to calm them down - so leave as quickly and safely as you can.

Written by Fingal Pollock, Trainer & Facilitator at Skillset