Passive Aggressive Behavior

11 July 2023

We all have behavior patterns. Some are positive and others aren’t. Passive-aggressive tendencies are a way to cope with situations we don’t want to deal with but in a more subtle manner. This is not defined as a mental health illness. However, it can disrupt relationships or cause issues in the workplace. A good example is agreeing with someone else’s request but not doing it or just dragging one’s feet so that it becomes delayed. When confronted with the unaccomplished task, the individual will become defensive.

This can be illusive behavior. It can appear orally by blaming others or feigning excuses that don’t really ring true. Sometimes, especially in personal relationships, it is a silent treatment or ignoring someone during a group discussion. There is generally less eye contact and often “forgetting”. You can expect sarcasm or snide comments.

These actions can be the result of suppressing resentment or anger, or subconsciously playing the victim or martyr, or an attempt for attention. It can also be an attempt to control a relationship, which could be a warning sign. The bottom line is that for some reason they have difficulty expressing their true feelings.

In dealing with this type of behavior, your reactions could be reflecting the same passive-aggressiveness or becoming angry. This will probably only serve to reinforce the other person’s actions, or inactions. It is best to avoid placating that individual or to apologize to them. Removing yourself from interacting with them as much as possible can be beneficial to your own mental well being. If that is not possible, being calm and non-accusitory and explain how that person’s behavior has made your feel. It may be that you can work to avoid social situations to lessen your own frustration.

Or, if this is a workplace situation, like manager to passive-aggressive staff, explain how it has affected the department, project, or bottom line. You would also need to explain how this could affect their next employment review and that you are trying to help them succeed with the company. Offer to resolve the issues as a team. Allowing the other person to offer solutions could help them feel they are recognized for their skills. Show empathy and try to find work arounds that will make them successful and feel that way as well.

The situation becomes far more complicated when the passive-aggressive is your boss. When you receive instructions or an assignment, clarify immediately. If possible, get them in writing or at least confirm your understanding in an email. In this way you can help them accept their own decisions. It is tempting to respond in kind with sarcasm or retorts. Be the bigger person. Allow them to take credit if necessary. Maintain your own values and morals.

Those people who are passive-aggressive do not like conflict but will assent and then walk away angry or sullen. You need to remain calm and as unemotional as possible. Setting clear goals, expectations, or boundaries is best. Stay present. Use clear language.

Some things to consider include your own overreacting to statements or actions. It could be that your good friend is not upset with you for some reason, but they are simply overwhelmed with their own life activities. Sometimes humor is a good alternative to diffuse a situation.

Remember the only attitudes and actions you can change are your own. Remain respectful of the other person and any others who may be involved in the situations.

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