Have you ever seen a job announcement worded something like this: “aggressive sales person wanted” or “aggressive go-getter needed to take charge”? That kind of language tells me way more than I want to know about the person who would write such an ad. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with such a person, let alone work with him or her.
Aggression is always directed against someone or something. In sports and in warfare, aggression is expected and necessary. Elsewhere it’s toxic. Certainly, many jobs require someone who is ambitious, self-motivated, and goal-oriented. Those qualities indicate a person of character and responsibility. An aggressive person is unlikely to be respected or trusted.
Being aggression-prone is such a risk in the workplace that some companies now test and reject applicants who score high in latent aggression. Dr. Lawrence James and associates developed the Conditional Reasoning Test of Aggression (CRT-A) specifically for this purpose. Not only should employers refrain from recruiting aggressive employees, they would be well advised to screen them out.
Some behaviors such as lying, bullying, harassment, fighting, and stalking are readily associated with hyper-aggressiveness. However, research has revealed several more malignant but not-so-obvious behaviors that are associated with hyper-aggression. Here are seven:
Malingering: Faking illness or injury to get out of work
Sabotage: Deliberately causing harm or creating liabilities for the employer
Toxic gossiping: Spreading discontentment and damaging morale
Chronic complaining: Always having something to complain about is the goal
Absenteeism: Significantly above the norm
Pilfering: That “aggressive go-getter” will try to get it all
Mobbing: Inciting co-workers to shun, harass, or intimidate others
As I explained in a previous post about road rage, the CRT-A is based on Dr. James’ theory of justification mechanisms. James identified six justification mechanisms that hyper-aggressive people use to relieve cognitive dissonance and excuse their bad behavior:
Hostile attribution: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”
Potency: The tendency to view social interactions in terms of winners and losers.
Retribution: “An eye for an eye.”
Victimization by powerful others: “I’m just a patsy.”
Derogation of target: “Those losers only got what they deserve.”
Social discounting: “You know where you can stick your rules.”
An exaggerated sense of entitlement, narcissism, and manipulativeness is apparent in many of the seven toxic workplace behaviors listed above. This suggests significant overlap between aggression and the dark triad trait of Machiavellianism. I think we need some aggressive go-getters to conduct further research into this possible correlation.
By Dale Hartley, Ph.D. MBA