Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

Passive aggressive behavior is extremely common. It is quite rampant in the workplace and it also exists in personal relationships. Passive aggressive behavior is common among friends, couples, spouses, siblings, neighbors and relatives.

Passive aggressive behavior is more difficult to deal with because it is subtle. There are many who wouldn’t even notice the red flags. Managers or business owners need to be conscious of the worrying signs and must take appropriate action to resolve the problem. Inaction is not the best approach as that can aggravate the situation and it is quite possible that the employee or employees indulging in such behavior would cause substantial harm to the company’s interests over a period of time.

Identifying Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

Passive aggression has various manifestations. Some are more obvious than others. Common manifestations of passive aggressive behavior is an employee missing deadlines, intentionally messing up an assignment, not doing his or her job even though he or she can, not sharing necessary information or consciously sabotaging an operation, doing a poor job to make the immediate supervisor or manager look incompetent and trying to create complications even in the simplest of circumstances, among others.

Passive aggressive behavior stems from suppressed anger. If an individual is angry with someone or at something and is incapable of expressing it explicitly, then the individual will resort to covert ways of expressing the same. Such an individual may also resort to covert ways or passive aggression because he or she doesn’t want the other person to know that he or she is miffed with something. Passive aggressive behavior can be circumstantial reactions at times but it is often a part of a person’s personality. There are people who would never resort to such a behavior because they would be upfront about their anger, resentment or disappointment.

Some people have a personality that facilitates passive aggressive behavior, which is why it is all the more important to identify such individuals and to tackle the circumstances. Someone who indulges in such behavior once is likely to indulge in it time and again. It could also become a chronic condition wherein the person would perpetually behave in such uncooperative, hostile and unproductive manner.

Understanding Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

The immediate issue or the trigger in a case can be varied. It could be the denial of a promotion or appraisal, unfair treatment meted out to someone, poor leave policies, bad boss, complex assignment, delayed paycheck and it could be some personal reason as well. The issues can be as varied as they can get. But it would be unwise to look at passive aggressive behavior in the workplace through the sole prism of the trigger factor. There are many other contributing factors.

People spend almost their entire day at work. It is obvious then that most concerning issues will stem from such a place. Not every employee expressing passive aggression is bad or undesirable. It could be so that the employee is unable to speak with his or her immediate boss. Possibly, someone else can listen to the grievances or issues. It is quite likely that someone would find it difficult to be entirely honest with a company’s owner or anyone who is in charge of the person’s career, promotions, paycheck and even leaves. Being honest is not always the right policy if the person one is being honest to is not the right person.

Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behavior In the Workplace

Passive aggression must never be responded to with aggression or passive aggression. When one person is expressing passive aggressive behavior, the other person needs to exercise control. He or she should not get aggressive. And he or she should not resort to passive aggression to counter. Not reacting recklessly or with the mindset of an eye for an eye is the first step.

Communication is the key in dealing with passive aggressive behavior in the workplace. A boss who is fair, loved or respected, jovial, helpful, easy to talk to and doesn’t have a practice of keeping scores will never find it difficult to speak with someone expressing passive aggression. Opening up a channel of free and fair communication is crucial. Such communication has to be one on one, not a group therapy, and should be face to face and not over the phone or via emails.

One must not be optimistic or pessimistic while dealing with passive aggression. It is better to stay disassociated and to have a neutral view. Looking at facts and taking a humane perspective to understand the predicament of the individual is quintessential.

Honesty, a genuine willingness to listen to problems and to make possible attempts to resolve the contentions and having an approach that is welcoming and reassuring would help any manager, leader, supervisor or company owner in dealing with passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.