How to Manage Passive-Aggressive People Bringing Hidden Hostility to Light

Do you know people who are

  • frequently sarcastic? Do they
  • tease others
  • cruelly or put them down, either directly or behind their back? If so, do they then
  • use the phrase “just kidding” to appear to lessen the blow?

Perhaps they respond to conflict by

  1. shutting others out and giving them the “silent treatment,” rather than addressing issues head on. Or maybe they
  2. pretend to accept responsibility for tasks, only to come up with excuses for not doing them later.

passive-aggressive behavior as an alternative to addressing issues head on. For example, you might sulk, withdraw from people emotionally, or find indirect ways to communicate how you feel.

People may act like this because

  • they fear losing control,
  • are insecure, or
  • lack self-esteem  . They might do it
  • to cope with stress,
  • anxiety  ,
  • depression, or
  • insecurity, or
  • to deal with rejection or conflict. Alternatively, they might do it because
  • they have a grudge against a colleague, or
  • Feel underappreciated.

Instead of offering praise when it’s due, they typically downplay or ignore others’ achievements.

  • They might also use sarcasm as a weapon to attack colleagues (pretending that they are joking), or
  • spread harmful rumors 
Another common passive-aggressive behavior is to
  • be disruptive. You may delegate a task to a team member that he doesn’t want to do, so he
  • leaves a task to the last moment and do it poorly. Or, might
  • shirk his responsibilities, such as by taking a sick day just before an important presentation, as a form of “retaliation.”

Passive-aggressive people often

  • have difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions, and

  • blame others for their mistakes. You’ll find that issues at work, for example, are never their fault. Or, if they’re late for a meeting or don’t complete a project on time, it’s because of someone else.

serious consequences.

mixed messages about her intentions

  • withholds instructions or other critical information to impede
  • team members may have to pick up her work regularly
  • breed resentment and damaging morale.
  • Strategies for Managing Passive Aggressiveness

  • Identify the Behavior
    The first step in addressing passive aggression is to recognize it, using the pointers above. This is often the most challenging part, as it can be subtle and therefore difficult to identify.

 Deal with passive-aggressive behavior straight away, so that it doesn’t escalate.

Make notes on situations as they occur, so that you have specific examples of what your team member has done, so he knows exactly what you’re talking about.

 Create a Safe Environment

let the person know that it’s safe for her to raise concerns and issues with you out in the open, rather in covert ways.

Make it clear to her that, as a manager, you don’t “shoot messengers,” and would rather her come to you with her problems rather than let them bubble under the surface

be encouraging, praising and supporting people who do bring matters to your attention.

Give accurate feedback

  • give him an opportunity to explain why.
  • try to avoid “you” statements. This will stop the other person feeling attacked, and becoming defensive.
  • use first-person pronouns, such as “I,” “we” and “our,” and explain the effect that his behavior has had on you and your team.
  • confront passive-aggressive people directly and face-to-face

Stay Calm

You may make the situation worse if you react emotionally to your team member. She

  • may feel threatened,
  • withdraw further, and
  • become even more entrenched in her negative behaviors.

Speak to her in a measured, even tone and remain composed. She might not even realize she’s being passive aggressive, so you might want to

  • use an empathic approach to defuse any anxiety and anger. However, if she is repeatedly behaving in this way, and you’ve raised the issue in the past,
  • you may need to be firmer, and consider disciplinary action.

Identify the Cause

  • don’t accept their answers at face value.
  • Probe more deeply by asking questions to identify the root of the problem.
  • Give them the opportunity to explain themselves, but
  • don’t let them pass the blame.

 Explain that you want to understand how he feels, and work with him to explore other ways that he might handle the situation more constructively.

role-play the raising of issues, so that people become comfortable doing this in a confident, non-passive-aggressive way.

Set Clear Standards and Consequences
If your team member deflects your feedback

  • saying your standards are too high or that
  • She  didn’t realize what your expectations were, she may be trying to divert attention away from herself.

establish clear standards, and regularly reiterate what you want

hold them to account  

explain that her negative behavior will not be tolerated, and set out the consequences of what will happen if she does step out of line again

Open up Channels of Communication
Passive-aggressive people often lack good communication skills,

encourage them to develop the skills and confidence to speak to others directly.

Be a good role model

develop strong relationships, build trust, and identify problems before they escalate.

Telltale signs

include procrastination, disruptive behavior, and blaming others.

take a proactive approach

Once you’ve identified the behavior, address it directly. Stay calm during your conversation, and ask questions

Set clear standards and hold people to account.

encourage open, two-way communication

If you realize that you engage in these behaviors, step back and try to figure out why.


Author: charlesburchfield

I am an artist working primarily with collage.

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