You’re too Aggressive!

“Aggressive” – the most infuriating, confidence crippling feedback a woman can ever receive (well, except for “you look tired”.) This post provides ways of responding to this feedback that will help build your confidence, improve relationships at work and raise your profile in your work place. It will go through reasons why you are being called aggressive and techniques for addressing this feedback in a positive manner.

“They think you’re a bit too aggressive!”

The reason you are being called aggressive is that you are seen as a threat and the person using the word wants to reduce your confidence and block you either being promoted or gaining recognition for your achievements (or both!).

If you know who called you aggressive, then work out why they would see you as a threat. Examples of becoming a threat include :

  • achieving a work outcome that no one else has achieved before with a direct impact on profit, income or employee engagement
  • achieving a work outcome that previously looked too difficult and you made it look easy
  • successfully delivering a project that undermines your boss’ role or displaces roles that your boss has added to the team structure
  • delivering a project which results in people losing their jobs
  • Successfully restructuring a team with an improved engagement score
  • Improving employee engagement outcomes
  • Getting the faulty kettle replaced

Really it can be anything! The point is not that you are being called aggressive but to understand why you are being called aggressive.   No matter how good your work outcome, being called aggressive is a negative that will impact your performance review, promotion opportunities and pay rises. So it is important to understand who is threatened, why and diffuse the threat. This person is so influential that their feedback is taken seriously, so this is the type of person to get on your side. If they are vocal in the negative, then they will be vocal in the positive.   Nothing says promotion more than: “Even Joe thinks she’s due for a promotion and he used to think she was aggressive!”

How to deal with people who are threatened by you? You need to neutralise their feelings of being threatened and ideally convert them into loud promoters of your work.

A threatened person can be neutralised by:

  1. Acknowledge the problem they perceive to have been created
  2. Ask them how they would have liked to be involved/informed of future projects or changes
  3. Acknowledge their contribution to your successes
  4. Gain their buy-in for your next project by demonstrating that your success is their success
  5. Follow-up by keeping them informed of the project and how their team is contributing
  6. Let them know early if there are issues, so they don’t get surprised by hearing about problems from their boss or peers
  7. Become their go to person for information on the project
  8. Offer support for one of their projects and follow-up when this support helps the project achieve a win
  9. Publicly acknowledge their success
  10. Publicly acknowledge their and their team’s contribution to your project’s success
  11. Help support one of their direct reports getting promoted or rewarded

You can start a conversation about gaining their trust and support for your next big project by asking for their support and highlighting what they will gain from this :

“Hey Joe, I know you got surprised by the outcomes of that project. I’d really like your support for this next project, I think the outcomes could be even better with your team helping out and your team could get a 15% increase in sales without having to increase staff. Will you support this project? ”.  

Make sure this conversation occurs privately, so you can receive honest feedback from the person threatened. They may need to ask for help in understanding your project or how the figures are worked out. Make sure you provide them with lots of information and support. Also, try to build the relationship on other less tangible outcomes, so the only conversation your have isn’t just about one project and your needs. Try to work out what they need to be successful in the workplace and help them with their own success. Remove the perception that your success is a threat to their job so that a more healthy and respectful relationship can develop over time.


Expect building this relationship to take a minimum of 6 months. So time your involvement and communication to occur regularly between performance review periods. Also, make it clear to your boss that you are working to improve the relationship and give them updates on what you are doing.   Be transparent.   This will offset any negative feedback if the person threatened is entrenched in their view of you and is incapable of change.   By providing visibility on the steps you are taking, your boss will understand the effort you have put in and be able to use this information to counter any negative feedback from that person in future.   However, from experience the most vocal blockers to your career can become your biggest advocates when they begin to associate their success with your success.   This will take some persistence and it doesn’t mean this person needs to be your best friend. However, by removing the ‘aggressive’ feedback you will demonstrate how strong and resilient you are as a leader. You will be seen as an asset and an influencer.


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