Some basic tips on managing verbal aggression.

Aggression can be put into two categories: proactive and reactive aggressive behaviour. 

Proactive aggression is when someone is deliberately being aggressive in order that they reach some pre-determined goal. They are likely to seem unemotional and be persistent. Maintaining boundaries and stating expected social behaviour or consequences, is important in managing this type of aggression. 

Reactive aggressive behaviour is when someone is responding to events or triggers around them which causes an emotional response that is displayed as aggression.

Understanding triggers: frequent causes of aggressive behaviour

  • Not being listened to
  • Being in pain
  • The need for control
  • Not understanding or feeling confused
  • Feeling frightened / anxious
  • Being hungry and /or lack of nutrition
  • Maybe linked to an underlying condition
  • Feeling shame

Behaviours that can escalate anger in another person: what not to do

  • A closed body posture e.g.  folded arms

  • A confrontational posture i.e. standing face on and too close to the other person
  • Moving around too much or waving arms
  • Interjecting too early with a consequence
  • Reminding them that you are much more powerful than they are
  • Not listening 
  • Not giving feed back to demonstrate you are listening
  • Being impatient
  • Appearing anxious
  • Responding to your own internal stress rather than being in the present moment
  • Asking WHY questions (puts people on the spot and can feel like an interrogation)
  • Lack of eye contact or glaring eye contact
  • Talking over someone or finishing their sentence for them
  • Making judgements which minimise their feelings e.g.: I can’t see why you are so angry
  • Closed questions i.e. those which only give yes or no answers as this can feel like you are interrogating the other person.
  • Getting into a power struggle with the other person.


How to de-escalate verbal aggression: what to do.

  • Keep an open, relaxed posture; side on is best as this is less confrontational; standing at right angles to them is least confrontational.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Be confident.
  • Listen and listen more. You want to give the other person room to offload before making any verbal response.
  • Demonstrate active listening through attentive non-verbal responses: an inclined posture demonstrates interest and nodding of the head shows you are listening without interrupting.
  • Active listening through verbal responses: keep a calm tone, inflection and volume; reflect and summarise what the other person has said to demonstrate you are listening and understanding them.
  • Ask open ended questions that demonstrate you are exploring their issue.
  • Wait and summarise their issue to check you have understood.
  • If possible, approach a resolution e.g. How can this be resolved? Or if this is not possible respond by saying that you are sorry that they feel this way.

Post incident support.

Always talk to someone afterwards in order to ventilate your own feelings about it; the sooner the better. Reflect on whether you felt your handling of the situation went well or if there was something you could have done differently.


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