The Passive-Aggressive Problem

Passive-aggressive people can be a frustrating bunch. Essentially (but by no means the clinical definition), a passive-aggressive person is someone who will get angry but only express it indirectly, preferring to avoid conflict altogether. That might be through gossip, sarcasm, or even just silently avoiding tasks they were directed. Pushed too little, a passive-aggressive person can emotionally manipulate everyone in their path – and most won’t even realize it’s happening. Pushed too hard, a passive-aggressive person will flee with their tail between their legs – leaving you with no way to effectively solve the problem. Most of us want conflict handled swiftly and effectively – the less time arguing, the more time progressing. If you’re running a business and have an issue with an employee, the more time you waste with them the less money you are making. Relationships often fall victim to this sort of arguing tactic and it can destroy what would have been an otherwise fulfilling and meaningful relationship.

Identifying Passive Aggressive Behavior

There are a variety of traits that can be indicative of passive-aggressive attitudes. While there are certainly clinical identifications that can be made, none of us are trained psychologists – we have to rely on identifying the patterns and traits ourselves (That being said, even if you believe someone to be passive-aggressive, it’s best to keep the label to yourself). Some easily identifiable ones: constantly forgetting tasks, constant procrastination of work, and avoidance of responsibility. Not being open to constructive and tactful criticism, pouting, and a general sullenness in attitude.

The major one, however, is avoidance of conflict. Many passive-aggressive people tuck and run the moment conflict is in front of them – through a variety of techniques. This may include passing the blame or giving the accuser the cold-shoulder. The problem here is that in being passive-aggressive, the person with which the issue occurs avoids being directly confronted and creates an air of impossibility in how the problem is solved. In a world where deadlines come fast and where the less stress is better, this can waste a great deal of our time.

Addressing the Passive Aggressive Person

When confronting a passive-aggressive person with an issue, one of the major concepts to keep in mind is to avoid letting the discussion become an argumentative “power-struggle”. Stay calm, assertive, and focused. State your problem and show confidence in saying it. Pay attention to their actions – in fact, emphasize that you will be watching their behaviors, not their words, in the future. Try using “I” language. An example would be instead of saying “You forgot to take the trash out last night during your shift” you could instead word it: “I get very upset when the trash isn’t done like last night”. That keeps direct pressure or a sense of being attacked off of the person while maintaining your disappointment and assertiveness.

Dealing With Passive Aggression in Social Circles

We all have friends that we could probably identify as passive-aggressive. Doesn’t like to argue, gets incredibly hurt when any criticism comes their way. Often gives the cold-shoulder after a disagreement happens. Some of us may have even dated a person like this. Being passive-aggressive does not automatically discount a person of being someone worth your time, but it can be a headache at times. A lot of the same workplace techniques apply, but if it’s with a friend you care about, especially a close one, you may want to take some time to help them express themselves in a more direct manner. Remind them that you value their friendship and opinions, and give them some leeway to be more direct. You aren’t a trained psychologist, but you can always try to meet them at their level.

Am I Passive-Aggressive?

If any of these traits that I have listed seem familiar in your own actions, maybe it’s time to reassess yourself. From my own experience, passive-aggressive people are the last in line for promotions, opportunities, and general leadership roles. Passive-aggressiveness appears weak, needy, and discouraging to co-workers and bosses and makes it a hard sell once an opportunity arrives. Leaders need to address problems head on, often rapidly, and there is no time to dawdle in passive-aggressive attitudes. Potential employers are often able to see these traits in interviews, and if it’s a promotion you are looking at your boss and co-workers already know.

If you’re looking for a do-it-yourself guide on how to adjust this behavior, you’re going to have to take the leap and be assertive – but take small steps at first. Start considering what makes you upset, why you have a fear of conflict, and start addressing tiny issues with people around you. When you see that conflict is not the end of the world and that the people around you won’t immediately ostracize you, you’ll feel more confident than the last time and be able to address the larger ones. Conflict does not end the world. In fact, if done correctly often times you will find that those around you appreciate the honesty and insight.

Conditioning yourself to not be passive-aggressive can be difficult at first, but once you see the good that comes from directness, honesty, and assertiveness you will be able to guide yourself to a better attitude – and that same directness can help you address passive-aggressiveness in others.


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