Smart ways to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour at work
By Nancy Nzalambi | February 1st 2020
Passive-aggressive behaviour can have grave consequences to relationships at the workplace. It is characterised by expression of negative feelings, resentment and aggression in an unassertive way such as stubbornness, procrastination and unwillingness to communicate.
When furious, a passive aggressive person may repeatedly claim that they are fine and not mad at all. They refuse to be emotionally open and shut down possibility of further communication.
Deep down, passive-aggressive individuals tend to be deeply insecure, perpetually lonely and anxious. So how do we intelligently deal with passive aggressive behaviour at the workplace? Here are smart ways to deal with it.
A passive-aggressive boss?
Make your boss own their decisions
Passive aggressive bosses tend to possess overly critical behaviour. Workplace bullying is also majorly attributed to passive-aggression from managers. In some instances, such bosses limit access to needed information to their juniors so that they get to give them that look of pure disdain when it comes to decision making.
Such managers thrive on pitting employees against each other. In order to perform your best and not to fall into the trap of being chronically indecisive, prepare adequately and dig for more information whenever you are given an assignment. Set parameters and clarify what is expected of you in advance.
Clear expectations will limit your boss’s passive-aggressive choices especially in critical decision making. They will also be bound by the expectations they themselves set for the job.
Rather than feeling like you are undervalued, anticipate their behaviour, prepare and do your due diligence in all you are supposed to do.
Do not be tempted to return the favour
Your boss’s manipulative passive-aggressive behaviour can cause psychological distress to you and your colleagues at the workplace.
Despite them being a workplace nuisance, do not be tempted to stoop to their level. They make take undue credit for your work, but it is unwise to go around whispering to your colleagues that you are the one who actually deserved the praise.
There is a high probability they already know. Reciprocating your boss’s passive-aggressive behaviour will only legitimise it and will even make future conflicts harder to resolve.
Be the bigger person, no matter how difficult it is. You will earn more respect that way.
Keep it professional
When confronting your passive-aggressive boss, always keep it professional. Do not personalise any issue when engaging in conversation.
When you feel that your boss is addressing you in a condescending tone, respectfully point out what seems to be the problem and give them the opportunity to tell you what you should improve on. Do not make it about how hurt your feelings are.
Rather, masterfully acknowledge their role at the workplace and raise your concerns without throwing judgment. If you have to act more mature than the boss — who earns more than you — then do so. Weigh your options; and if it’s not worth it, hire a new boss.
A passive-aggressive colleague
Control your emotions
Passive-aggressive colleagues can really get under your skin. Their tendency of indirect communication can really get in the way of business and bring frustrations and less welcome surprises. Refrain yourself from overreacting or lashing out. Look into every situation they bring to you objectively so that you can proceed more mindfully.
“There’s something powerful about objectivity in these very charged, uncomfortable situations with very frustrating people”, says Amanda Gulino, HR expert and founder of A Better Monday. Always stay calm and collected.
Speaking out is an essential step
Depending on the severity of the consequences of the passive-aggressive behaviour, find a way to address the issue with honesty and kindness.
Speaking out will underscore the intention that you are not condoning their behaviour. Communicate effectively that addressing the issue is a step forward rather than a confrontation.
Bring strong emotional intelligence
Dealing with passive-aggression is one area where using emotional intelligence will have a huge advantage. Passive-aggressive colleagues believe they are doing their best in communication.
By being more empathetic, you will make them feel safe so that they can improve their communication and engage in more constructive conversations. Create an environment where being effective is more important, and helping them communicate better will only help them achieve more and relate better. Probe more from them.
“All they want is to be heard,” says Renee Frey, recruiting guru and founder of TalentQ. “If they are not sharing their frustration, verbally communicate to them that they can trust you and share their true thoughts and feelings. This enables them to feel more comfortable and share more openly.”
Look into your company’s culture
If you happen to notice passive-aggressive behaviour with a good number of your colleagues, it could be an indicator that more time should be allocated in investigating the company’s culture.
It could be that there are systemic factors hindering effective communication and employee connection to the company.
To salvage your company from future low workplace morale, raise your concern with the relevant people and explain the bigger picture. The company culture could use some good refresher to get the employee morale boosted.
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