Making Peace with Passive-Aggressive Communicators
BY Sarah Fenson
Situation: A passive-aggressive is driving you crazy.
You find yourself at the mercy of a passive-aggressive (P-A) coworker who is trying to drive you insane! Why? Maybe the P-A's behind-the-scenes efforts to derail, control, or thwart your efforts seem hard to peg, and thus hard to confront. After all, maybe you're just imagining things. He doesn't come right out and say no to an assignment, for example. Instead, he'll nod and then just not do what you've requested. When questioned, he'll give an excuse, such as not knowing you expected something, or that something else required his attention. The ultimate is when you, in frustration, end up saying, "Fine, I'll do it myself!" He's a master of manipulation.
Tip: Check yourself, then your response.
Many people find the passive-aggressive tough to deal with, which is why, like other types, he hangs on to this behavior: It has been a successful way for him to feel secure and in control. This behavior is not only annoying but counterproductive. Not only can it be frustrating for you, but it can derail positive efforts in the organization and cause star employees to get frustrated and head elsewhere.
While it's always good to check whether your filters or communications are adding to the problem, don't take responsibility if the person is demonstrating P-A behavior. My favorite book of hints on dealing with difficult personalities is The Bad Attitude Survival Guide, by Harry E. Chambers, which has a nice section on the P-A.
The P-A has been successful using this behavior because others rarely, if ever, call him on it. That's the power of his power trip! One approach might be to be forthright: "You know, John, this behavior strikes me as very passive-aggressive. I'd like you to complete the assignment, because it's important that we keep this project on schedule. When today will you have that to me?" The P-A may try to deflect responsibility back to you; if he does, simply restate the point, emphasizing that the position requires someone who is willing and able to complete the assignments as requested, on time; is he, or is he not?
This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization or situation. Please use it mindfully. The most effective communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get individualized assistance from a communication expert.
Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. Coauthor Sarah Fenson is Ivy Sea's Guide to Client Services.