how to deal with passive aggressive people

5 Tips on How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

Published Date: May 20, 2023 | Office Communication

You likely clicked on this post because you have identified a passive aggressive person in your life or at work and you are wondering how to deal with passive aggressive people. In any workplace, communication is key. But what happens when someone is communicating in a passive-aggressive manner? Passive-aggressive behavior can be frustrating, difficult to deal with, and create a toxic work environment. Explore passive aggressive behavior, how it can manifest in the workplace, and most importantly, how to deal with passive aggressive people productively and constructively.

What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?

Passive-aggressive behavior is when someone indirectly expresses his or her negative feelings through actions or words. Instead of being upfront and honest about their feelings, they might use sarcasm, subtle jabs, or avoidance tactics to communicate their discontent. This communication style can harm the work environment, creating tension, confusion, and conflict. There are many tactics to identifying passive aggression in the workplace, but we have also included some examples below. This will help you to start identifying this behavior so you can learn more about how to deal with passive aggressive people in the long run.

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People: Examples

Example 1

Let’s say an executive has asked an employee to complete a task. The employee agrees, but they delay and procrastinate until the last possible moment instead of following through. Alternatively, they might complete the task but do so with a subpar effort, hoping to demonstrate their displeasure in a passive-aggressive way. 

Example 2

Imagine an executive disliking an idea proposed in a meeting. Instead of expressing their disagreement directly, they might comment sarcastically or indirectly belittle the idea. For example, they might say something like, “Oh sure, let’s just throw money at this problem and hope it goes away,” or “That’s an interesting idea, but it might not be really practical.” By using sarcasm and indirect language, they express their disagreement without actually saying it, making it difficult for the other person to respond or address the issue.

Example 3

Imagine two colleagues who are working on a project together. One colleague is responsible for completing a task that the other colleague needs to move forward with their work. However, the first colleague needs to complete their portion of the project on time and communicate clearly about when it will be done. The second colleague is getting frustrated and stressed. Still, instead of addressing the issue directly, they might make comments like, “Oh, I guess we’ll just have to wait for [name] to get their act together before we can move forward,” or “I’m not sure why this is taking so long, but I guess some people just work at a different pace than others.” By making these indirect comments, they express their frustration without addressing the root cause of the issue, which is the other colleague’s lack of communication and follow-through.

If these examples sound like someone you know, you have now completed the first step in how to deal with passive aggressive people.

Assertive Communication Style and It’s Importance in How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

In contrast, assertive communication is a healthy way to express feelings and opinions and is a good counter behavior in how to deal with passive aggressive people. This communication style allows individuals to be direct, honest, and respectful. When assertive, someone can state their needs clearly and confidently without resorting to passive-aggressive behavior. Assertive communication is essential for executives and employees alike, as it can lead to better communication, increased productivity, and improved work relationships.

From the examples above, here is how an assertive communication style would have played out instead:

Example 1

Instead of being passive-aggressive by delaying or completing the responsibility with subpar effort, the employee could be assertive by communicating their concerns about the task to the executive. Instead, they could say, “I understand that you want me to complete this task, but I am concerned that I may not be able to finish it on time due to my current workload. Can we discuss how to prioritize my workload so that I can complete this one effectively?” By communicating their concerns and proposing a solution, the employee is assertive and addressing the issue directly.

Example 2

Instead of using sarcasm or indirect language to express their disagreement, the executive could demonstrate strength by addressing the issue directly. They could say, “I appreciate your idea, but I am concerned about its feasibility. Can we discuss it further and see if there are ways to make it work?” By being direct and respectful, the executive expresses their disagreement while opening up the conversation for further discussion and collaboration.

Example 3

Instead of commenting indirectly about their colleague’s failure to communicate and stay on task, the second colleague could be assertive by addressing the issue directly. They could say, “I am having some trouble moving forward with my work because I have not received the information I need from you. Can we discuss when you will be able to complete the assignment so that I can plan accordingly?” By being clear and direct about their concerns, the second colleague addresses the issue and works towards a solution.

Why is it Important to Avoid Passive-Aggressive Communication?

Passive-aggressive communication can harm productivity, morale, and relationships. When employees cannot communicate their feelings healthily and directly, it can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and tension. This can cause projects to be delayed or even fail. Moreover, passive-aggressive behavior can lead to a toxic work environment, resulting in low employee morale and increased absenteeism and turnover rates. In short, if you do not learn how to deal with passive aggressive people, it can negatively impact your company in serious ways.

5 Tips for How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

  • Identify the behavior: The first step in learning how to deal with passive aggressive people is recognizing the behavior. This means paying attention to the individual’s actions and words to identify any patterns of passive-aggressive communication.
  • Address the behavior: Once you have identified the behavior, it’s essential to address it calmly and constructively. Be direct, but not confrontational, and use “I” statements to express your feelings. For example, “I was frustrated last week when you said I’d have the report by Tuesday, but you didn’t provide it until Friday.”
  • Encourage assertive communication: Encouraging employees to communicate assertively is the third step in learning how to deal with passive aggressive people. Offer training and workshops to help employees develop these skills and model assertive communication yourself.
  • Establish clear expectations: Ensure employees understand what is expected of them, and provide clear guidelines for communication and behavior in the workplace.
  • Offer support: Passive-aggressive behavior can indicate underlying issues like stress or anxiety. Offer support and resources to employees who may be struggling.

Don’t Let Passive Aggression Hold You Back: Take Charge with Assertive Communication

Passive-aggressive behavior can harm productivity and create a toxic work environment. It’s important to recognize this behavior and address it calmly and constructively, so we hope this post on how to deal with passive aggressive people has helped. You can create a more productive and positive workplace by encouraging assertive communication, setting clear expectations, and offering support. Contact Arden Coaching today for a consultation if you need help improving communication, learning more about how to deal with passive aggressive people, and creating a healthier work environment. Together, we can make your workplace a more positive and productive place to be!

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