I received this email a few days ago – “On your blog could you please provide some useful tips and hints on dealing with the aggressive alpha male and alpha female in the workplace. I haven’t meet that many working in information management all my life but, when I have, I find them very threatening and intimidating and I am sure that many of your readers in the business field do so as well.” Since I pride myself on being responsive – and in my early career I also had my moments of blubbing in the loo because of one of these types – I’m happy to oblige!

Dealing with intimidating colleagues or managers is essentially a matter of using solid assertiveness and feedback techniques. Most Alpha People (APs) maintain their power through ensuring people are cowed by them and therefore don’t stand up for themselves – so the APs remain unchallenged. By making it plain that you are not some passive doormat to be trampled on, you effectively tip the power balance to a more even distribution. It also flummoxes the AP, since they rarely expect it!

So, here are some simple but powerful techniques to use…

·         Use clear feedback to tell people of the impact of their behaviour and what you expect from them. Use the format ‘Describe behaviour > result > feelings > expectations’. E.g. “When you raise your voice with me, I just get defensive and feel resentful. I’d prefer it if you could lower your tone and we could talk about this properly instead of arguing.”

·         Plan your words – be clear, concise and direct. Write it down beforehand if necessary until you get more practiced. Don’t get into long, rambling arguments – make your points clear. And absolutely don’t “er…” and “um…” all the time – make sure you sound convinced and convincing!

·         Use ‘I’ statements – “I think/I believe/I feel” etc. This can be particularly powerful – it means you are stating your case, but not claiming to be completely in the right. You’re showing that you’re entitled to your opinion, but not stating it as fact (a typical trait of APs!)

·         Be responsive to the AP and what they’re saying, even if they are being aggressive. This is about establishing rapport – it shows that you’re recognising their views. E.g. “I can see why you would feel that way “    “I understand you’re concerned” etc.  This can also help prevent the AP from acting aggressively, as it slows them down if they are angry or impatient.

·         Do not be apologetic for no reason – don’t keep saying “I’m sorry but…”   “I’m afraid that…”    “I don’t want to bother you…”     “Hope you don’t mind but…” etc.     (Unless you can say it in a firmly assertive way!) Otherwise, you’ll sound passive and people are less likely to take notice of you.

·         Watch your voice tone, volume and pace – don’t whisper, whine, falter or speak too slowly, or you’ll sound nervous and uncertain. Again, you’ll come across as a passive pushover and the AP is likely to ignore you.

·         Watch your body language – stand firm and upright and maintain eye contact. Slouching, shifting your weight, looking at the floor, wincing etc. will just make you look nervous (or in need of the loo.)

·         Challenge inappropriate AP behaviour. Eg. If someone talks over you or interrupts you, try “I listened to what you had to say, now can you please listen to me. If you have any other comments I’ll hear them when I’ve finished”. Or if your requests are being ignored, try something like “I know you are busy with the month-end reports but I need your figures by next week – so will you have them ready by Monday or Tuesday?”

·         Use the Broken Record technique – keep repeating the point you want to make until you have the impact you want. This shows that you’re not going to accept being ignored or sidelined.

·         Say No! Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of, and don’t feel the need to apologise. Give a reason and offer to explore alternatives, but don’t be passive – stand your ground. E.g. “I realise it’s important but my diary is full for this week. I could look at rescheduling some meetings next week if you can let me know how long it will take.”



Assertiveness isn’t a natural state; it’s a skill that has to be learned and practiced. To *act* assertive, it really helps to *think* assertive – so that means changing your beliefs, thoughts and feelings, to increase your self-esteem and confidence. After all, it’s much easier to convince other people that you deserve to be treated with respect, if you truly believe it yourself!