Every company wants the secret to creating a harmonious culture and collaborative team. Unfortunately, it's not something that can be found on a resume or bribed with work perks. That 'je ne sais quoi' all comes down to one thing: effective communication. 

So when someone starts to disrupt the team dynamic, you have a right to be concerned. Eye rolls, being ignored, and silent treatment are all passive aggressive tools that can stir up issues within the group very quickly. 

Passive aggressive behavior is a deliberate masking of hidden anger, and can manifest in a number of ways. From purposely missing deadlines to one word answers, it can be beyond frustrating if you're on the receiving end. 

Despite being called 'passive', this demeanor is anything but. At times you may wish they were on the other end of the spectrum, because at least that means they would vocalize their anger rather than turn it into a guessing game. 

As a leader, you'll have to manage passive aggressive people at some point in your career. The way you handle it will make all the difference in turning things around. Follow these three steps to ensure you prevent a toxic situation. 

1. Say Something

Whether it's directed at you or another employee, you always have to address the issue head-on. Don't try to beat them at their own game. 

Confronting a passive aggressive employee can be tricky. After all, their behavior shows that by nature they're non-confrontational. But in my experience, passive aggressive people really do want to talk about the issue, they just don't know how to communicate it effectively (or at times, maturely). 

Reach out to them in person and ask to meet for coffee. Tell them you've noticed that there may be something going on, and you'd like to listen and learn more about how they're doing. Come from a place of concern, not anger. 

2. Prepare Questions

You may run the risk that the employee doesn't openly share what's bothering them at your meeting. They may still resort to their passive aggressive ways, shrugging their shoulders and curtly saying everything is fine. Breathe and stay calm. 

Refer to the questions you've prepared that could reveal more of what's going on. Some examples include:

  • Are you happy with your work/life balance?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how appreciated do you feel by the company, your managers, and your coworkers?
  • What do you find the most challenging about your role? 
  • If you could change something about your job and day-to-day responsibilities, what would they be?

Make sure to write down their responses, and then summarize them back at the end of the meeting so the employee knows they've been heard. 

3. Plan Ahead

Don't expect to change their attitude. If they're being passive aggressive in the workplace, then you can bet they have acted this way for their entire lives. 

While you want to be compassionate, you also want to let them know that their lack of communication was affecting the team and their performance. Approach this part delicately. Start by saying that your door is always open, and you're happy to sit down with them in the future at any time.

Then plan a follow-up meeting to see if the situation has improved. This will let the employee know that you care about their progress, yet are also serious about preventing more passive aggressive behavior in the future.