Working with Passive Aggressive Colleagues (3-part blog): 12 things passive-aggressive people always do, why are people passive-aggressive and dealing with passive-aggressive colleagues

Working with Passive Aggressive Colleagues Part 1 of 3

Today's blog is the first in a 3-part series on working with passive aggressive colleagues. Part 1 focuses on common behaviors and expressions used by the passive aggressor. Part 2 will examine why people are passive aggressive and part 3 will demonstrate how to deal with persons who are passive aggressive.


12 Things passive-aggressive people always do - but don't realize

  • appear sweet, compliant and agreeable, but are really resentful, angry, petty and envious underneath.
  • afraid of being alone and equally afraid of being dependent
  • complain frequently that they are treated unfairly
  • procrastinate frequently, especially on things they do for others
  • sulk withdrawal and pout
  • cover up their feelings of inadequacy with superiority, distain or hostile passivity
  • often late and/or forgetful
  • make up stories, excuses and lies


Familiar passive aggressive statements:

"I'm not mad."

"I thought you knew."

"Fine. Whatever."

"Sure, I'd be happy to."

"I didn't know you meant now."

"I was only joking."

"Why are you getting so upset?"

"You've done so well for someone with your education level."


Why are People Passive-Aggressive? Part 2 of 3

Most people display passive-aggressive behavior at least occasionally. The behavior tends to increase when people feel dependent, unheard, or powerless. Passive aggression can be difficult to pinpoint because the entire purpose of the behavior is to avoid directness and obscure any aggressive intent.

In some cases, stress caused by life events or a mental health issue can cause people to act in passive-aggressive ways. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, and ADHD are a few common mental health issues that may cause passive aggression. Stressful life events such as unemployment, relocation, of death of a loved one may also cause people to act out passive-aggressively.

While passive aggression can be used as a coping mechanism, it is not healthy one.

While passive-aggressive behaviors are not constructive, the feeling behind them are most often valid. It can be helpful for those who lean on passive aggression due to fear of confrontation to face this fear and explore their feelings with a therapist who can help them find healthier outlets.


Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Colleagues Part 3 of 3

The most effective approach in dealing with a passive-aggressive colleague is to ignore the behavior and pretend you don't notice it. Telling your colleague does not work well

Here are some tips:

  • Create a safe environment. If you need to confront passive-aggressive behavior, let the person know it's alright to say what's really on their mind.
  • Use empathy. Acknowledge the passive-aggressive individual's concerns, however trivial, can help break down barriers that person may have put up.
  • Don't cave in. Passive-aggressive people may use these tactics because they increase feelings of security, stability, power, and control over a situation. If these tactics stop producing the intended result, it could help that individual realize they should adjust their approach.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Expressing appreciation when someone with passive-aggressive habits makes an effort to be direct can encourage them to continue the good behavior.


Jocelyn Herrett DSW RSW

Walmlsey, EFAP