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How to Deal With Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

It's the ones you don't see coming that get you. The steamrollers are straightforward. But the passive-aggressive communicators are another story. This article tells you how to stop passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace. 

Passive-aggression is no joke 

It makes you wonder

Working with passive-aggressive people can cause you to doubt your own sanity. He said it was a joke, but you’re not so sure. If it was, it was a passive-aggressive joke. She acts like she’s helping, but her “help” creates more work. They gave you the manual, but forgot to provide the password. She offers a lame excuse for being late (again) and acts offended when you tell her that lateness is a problem.

Are they as innocent as they appear? Or are these examples of passive aggressive behavior in the workplace?

What is passive-aggression?

Here’s your definition of passive aggression. It is indirect aggression that hides behind an agreeable face. It’s a hit-and-run (or hit-and-hide) communication tactic intended to silently stick the knife in and sabotage success in a way that makes it difficult for the injured party to respond. Passive aggressive behavior in the workplace is counter-productive, and can poison an entire office if allowed to continue.

It’s difficult, but you can learn how to stop passive aggressive behavior in the workplace by speaking up and speaking out with PowerPhrases.

What you don't do is important

Let’s start with listing what you don’t do:

  1. Don't react with your own passive aggressive behavior. Character-based Communicators don't use passive aggression.   

  2. Don't let your doubts silence you. You may choose to communicate the doubts or wait a little while to assess, but don't go under. 

  3. Don't believe words that contradict action. Note what you observe. It speaks louder than words. 

How to respond to passive aggressive behavior

Here’s what you do to stop passive aggressive behavior in the workplace:

  1. Respond assertively. Use PowerPhrases to say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean when you say it. Let them know how they affect you.     

  2. Do ask questions about the true intent of their behavior.      

  3. Do hold them accountable for results, not promises.

Pick your PowerPhrases.

What do you say? Here are sample PowerPhrases to stop passive aggressive behavior in the workplace based on the earlier example. Say:   

  • It may have been intended as a joke, but I found it hurtful, not funny.      

  • Is it possible that you’re not giving this your best shot in order to get out of the assignment?     

  • Did you withhold the password because you don’t want me to see the material?      

  • Whatever your reason for being late, I need to tell you how it affects me.

Use the think/feel/want formula. For example,

  • I think your words and actions contradict. I feel attacked indirectly. I want us to communicate respectfully and honestly.

Invite a Character-based Communication relationship

The SpeakSTRONG Method continually elevates the level of exchange. Any failing becomes an opportunity to define the relationship at a higher level, and invite others to as well. For example, you can say,

  • That sounded like a dig, and my reflex is to respond in kind. I don't want to do that. I want us to communicate respectfully and directly with each other.

  • This kind of communication makes me want to avoid you, which is a shame since I like you and enjoy you when I don't feel the need to defend myself against indirect attacks.

  • If there is anything about how I communicate that makes you feel it unsafe to address issues with me directly, please let me know. Sarcasm (mixed messages, etc.) make me think you have an issue you'd like to discuss. 

Stop passive aggressive behavior in the workplace

PowerPhrases 300HPassive aggression relies on silence about their mixed messages to be effective. When you let the passive aggressive person know you will not be manipulated by it, you can stop passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.

My PowerPhrases!PowerPhrases! book has dozens of phrases to deal with passive aggressive behavior. 

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