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7 Ways to Deal with Passive Aggressive Co-Workers ...

By Alison

I’m sure you’ve encountered a few passive aggressive co-workers in your lifetime. While everyone can be passive aggressive from time to time (particularly in an occupational environment), there are individuals who commonly display these attributes and routinely fall into the passive aggressive ‘camp.’ In the following paragraphs, I'll be informing you how to tell someone’s being passive aggressive, how their behavior manifests and ultimately ways in which you can deal with these types of co-workers.

1 What to Look for

Have you ever said something to someone only wanting to say something else? Have you ever praised someone in public yet criticized them in private? Have you ever slammed a door? Chances are you have done all of these things in your life, and yes, these are all common traits of being passive aggressive. Since we all behave passive aggressively from time to time, it can make passive aggressiveness extremely hard to spot in the workplace.

2 Its Roots

Passive aggressive behavior is complex and takes many forms, however it is usually born of fear or the fear of being controlled. It is misdirected anger that cannot be expressed openly. It originates and is generally entrenched in a child by the time they're six years old! A child that grows up in a controlling household where they are not given the permission to have or show their feelings (particularly anger), is more likely to grow into an adult that is passive aggressive. This is because they’re overly dependent on a parent to make decisions and/or to meet their needs. The child does not express their anger for fear of rejection or reprisal. Instead, they learn to express anger towards the parent in passive aggressive ways (without truly knowing they're doing it).


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3 How It Manifests at Work

In the workplace, passive aggressiveness is expressed at the person who has more power. If someone feels disempowered, inferior, or they’re working with an authority figure, their passive aggressive traits are more likely to materialize. You might see missed deadlines, sick days taken at the most critical times (when havoc will be caused), or critical information may not be passed on. Your boss could even be the one that is passive aggressive! In this case, they'll undermine their employees or hold teammates to super strict standards, so as to catch them out unfairly.

4 Embrace Conflict

Even if you shy away from conflicts, try not to respond in a passive aggressive manner yourself (no tit-for-tat)! Don’t give in to the other person's power or allow yourself to become a person you don’t want to be. Speak the truth simply, accurately, and always know you can walk away from the conversation (if you feel you need to). Seek mutual understanding of each other’s positions and recognize that if you agree with them, it doesn’t mean your relationship is in jeopardy. Embracing conflict can help let go of passive aggressive patterns; it can be a good thing if you are able to move through it productively. Instead of shutting down, try disagreeing and ask questions to understand your colleagues’ perspectives so as not to withhold critical feedback.

5 Set Limits and Consequences

Make it clear to your passive aggressive colleague that you don’t tolerate the way you’re being treated. Set some limits and boundaries with them (and yourself). If they're constantly doing something that you don’t like, tell them that the next time they do 'X,' you’re not going to let them get away with it. Try stating a couple of consequences of what will happen, if they don’t reconsider their behavior.

6 Practice Assertive Communication

Try assertive communication. This means that you listen to the other person, take their feelings into consideration and be respectful. Use statements that begin with “I” instead of “you” and follow up with facts; be specific and clear. It is important to confront the person with specific actions and don’t shy away. If you give in to this type of behavior, you'll lose your options.

7 Give Them a Voice

Make the passive aggressive person feel ‘heard.’ Let them be part of problem-solving or the solution to a situation. Ask them how they would handle a certain issue, topic, or what they would do when faced with a scenario. If all you hear are complaints, remain neutral and tell them that you’ll bear their thoughts in mind!

The reality is you’re going to encounter one or more passive aggressive types in your career. By learning to spot the behaviors, understand their traits and what causes it, you can lessen the damage to yourself, and to the rest of the team. If you feel you are passive aggressive yourself, try to become aware of when the situations arise for you, what triggers them, and get rid of any incongruity between what you think (your internal dialogue) and what others see and hear (external actions). This will increase the trust with your colleagues and also yourself.

What passive aggressive experiences have you had and how have you handled colleagues like these in the past?

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