We have all, at one time or another, encountered passive-aggressive people at work.  And it is possible you may be a little passive-aggressive at times, as well. This can happen when having direct conversations are not acceptable in the culture. If being polite is an unspoken requirement, people are likely to resort to passive aggressive forms of communication.

If you regularly encounter rude comments, blame-shifting, sarcasm, procrastination and the occasional silent treatment, it can wear down you down, making it difficult to work as a team, and it creates a toxic environment.

So how can you move forward in such a work environment and come out on top? Here are 5 secrets to handling passive-aggressive colleagues:

  1. Don’t retaliate with similar passive-aggressive behavior.

This throws fuel on the fire. It’s can be tempting to give it right back, but when we’re talking about passive-aggressiveness, resist the urge. Whether they are contributing to office gossip or attempting to make themselves look better in the workplace, don’t sink to their level by returning what they’re dishing out.

  1. Is something else going on?

It is possible something is going on at work, or at home, that may have triggered their behavior.  Sometimes, it can be beneficial to take a step back and try to think of what this person is trying to accomplish with their behavior. Are they trying to say something without saying it? If so, why? What is their motivation for doing so?

If you feel they would be open to this conversation you can bring it up to them. You could say something like, “hey I can see you were sarcastic (or late with the report), and it doesn’t seem like you, is anything going on I can help you with?” “Would you like to talk about it?”

  1. Don’t give them what they want.

Often, a passive-aggressive person is aiming for a reaction, and they’re hoping to get under your skin. By returning the tone with what they are using, you’re letting them have the power; they’re winning. They want to provoke you, don’t get drawn in. Keep a blank face and remove yourself from the situation. This removes their power.

  1. Keep a clear head.

Managing your feelings is a critical element of emotional intelligence. The more you understand about what triggers you and what you can do about it, the less likely you will be caught unaware by a passive aggressive co-worker. 

  1. Maintain boundaries.

Passive-aggressive people don’t express themselves very well in the workplace, and that might mean you need to change your approach. When other people do not demonstrate they will reciprocate with the behaviors you expect, you may have to spell it out for them. For example, if you are waiting on information from your co-worker so you can complete your report, let them know you need this data by a certain date because your report is due. If they cannot provide the information by that date you will go over their head (or whatever is needed) to get the information. You must then follow through on what you said, or you lose credibility.

You do not need to apologize for your boundary, “I am sorry it has to be this way, if you would just follow through,” because this inflames them and only draws you into an emotional meltdown. Just like with a bully, dealing with a person who consistently acts in a passive aggressive way, remember, you did not cause the behavior, and you cannot cure it.

 

Next Steps …

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