How to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace…

passive-aggressive behaviour

what is passive-aggressive behaviour?

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a deliberate way of expressing hidden feelings in a masked way to another person without them recognising the underlying anger.  This type of behaviour is very common in the workplace. Tensions from work, projects, character clashes and stress often arise and cause this behaviour. Additionally, with the workplace having a hierarchical structure, we feel that we cannot express negative emotions towards our line managers. So what do we do? We usually express negative emotion towards our colleagues and those around us.

Anger is a normal human emotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly accepted, socially. Therefore, as we try to mask this self-expression and realise it’s not going anywhere, we act passive aggressively without knowing. Passive-aggressive behaviour is a demonstration of the complex makeup of human interpersonal communication.

The Guardian provides the example of saying “‘I’m fine’ while your body language and tone clearly reveal you’re not”. The rise in technology has also provided a way for passive-aggressive behaviour to grow through abrupt; texts, emails and social media activity.


passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace

Passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace can be very damaging to individuals, as well as whole teams. If you’re being passive-aggressive, then you’re not allowing yourself or others the opportunity to understand and appreciate your feelings. If you are on the receiving end, then you will feel confused, upset, offended and frustrated. You’ll often feel like you’ve done something wrong, without having a context to think logically about it.  This type of behaviour can be very contagious in the workplace and create a very toxic atmosphere. As a result, you’ll become less productive as the needs’ of the person are not addressed or acknowledged.

managing your own passive-aggressive behaviour

The key way to manage your own passive-aggressive behaviour is mindfulness. We cover this in our blog post – The art of mindful leadership, which helps you to tune in with your internal and external feelings so that you can handle situations better.

Appreciate that anger is a human emotion and that there is a reason behind the way you are feeling which you should address. Confront your fear of conflict by realising that if you do address the issue then hopefully it will be resolved once and for all. Demonstrate assertiveness (watch our top tips video on assertiveness here) and a willingness to engage in conflict for a better end result.  Work out what you want and ignore the rest of the background noise and expectations which are placed on you – do not just go along with what other people say or think at the expense of your own desires and goals. Huffington Post makes a good comment on this saying you should listen to your own voice to provide you with your solid direction.

managing others behaviour

Managing others passive-aggressive behaviouris through ensuring that you’re not being lenient or tolerating the behaviour generally. There are many ways to demonstrate this. For example; if someone is late to meetings, make a point to start without them. If it’s a one to one, cancel the meeting. When addressing this behaviour, use specific examples where you can. This will make your argument stronger and if the person wasn’t aware of their passive-aggressive behaviour then they may not have been conscious of what they were doing.

If someone’s being passive-aggressive towards you, keep your cool – you don’t want to play out the behaviour they’re trying to withhold.

There are some key things you can do as a manager to reduce and squash out chances of passive-aggressive behaviour.

communicate effectively

As previously mentioned, the rise in technology has meant more channels for passive-aggressive behaviour to thrive in, so as a manager you can help by making a conscious effort to make as much communication face-to-face and direct as possible. Inc comment that ensuring responsibilities and expectations surrounding quantity, quality and timelines of work are crystal clear will remove chances of finger-pointing and shifting of blame. Focus on how you communicate. Our blog; Communication…where are you going wrong? covers this in more detail.

creating positive working environments

Focus on creating a work environment which is open to honesty, clarity and constructed criticism, where your team members feel comfortable about voicing their upset or frustrations rather than feeling as if they have to mask it. Ensure that you are consistent with your words and actions – if you don’t, your can’t trust and rely on you.

show compassion

Don’t forget to be a compassionate manager and do not forget that you are human – so demonstrate this! Read our blog post – Have we become robots?

how do you deal with passive-aggressive behaviour? Have you come across instances where you’ve seen this behaviour disrupt a workflow? Let us know in the comments below…

%d bloggers like this:

Subscribe to Manager's Digest!

Be the first to get access to brand new blog posts & exclusive content!

Simply enter your email address in the box below.