People often use passive aggressive behaviour as a defence mechanism to get you to leave them alone. It can be stressful, frustrating and just plain annoying, especially when you’re trying to get something done.
Passive aggressive behaviour in the workplace is often tolerated because it isn’t obvious and therefore is much harder to spot.
Spotting passive aggressive behaviour
There are several common ways that you can observe passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace. But watch out…some of these things might not be passive-aggressive behaviour, they might just be a sign that somebody is too busy to respond to you. That’s why this is so tricky!
People don’t respond: Someone that you’re dealing with doesn’t respond to your meeting request, email or phone calls. Since everybody can say they’re “busy”, you second-guess yourself thinking that maybe they just haven’t got around to it yet. I’ll just wait another day…
People agree, but don’t do anything: Somebody agrees with your suggestion and even seems enthusiastic, but when you’ve left the room, they don’t do anything.
People agree, then do a bad job: When somebody needs to do something for you, sometimes they’ll do a bad job so that you won’t bother them again.
Ways to deal with passive aggressive behaviour
1. Meet face to face
You should meet with a passive aggressive person face to face wherever possible to break down communication barriers. Generally, people are more likely to ignore somebody who never appears in person or even calls on the phone.
It’s also easy for people to think that other teams are incompetent when there is no personal contact.
2. Get approval from somebody more senior
If a passive aggressive person doesn’t report to you, make sure you talk to their boss about what you’re doing. Get their endorsement and then start talking to their team.
Without this, you may fight an uphill battle trying to get anyone to help you.
3. Be persistent and friendly
Usually, passive aggressive behaviour is a defence mechanism, designed to convince you to leave the person alone. If you give up after trying a few times, then the the passive aggressive person has “won”. If you really need their help, then you need to be persistent.
Start with email, then try phone calls and in-person conversations. Eventually it will become obvious that you are not going away. It might even be easier for the other person to help you than try to avoid you.
Remember also that you should be friendly. Try not to show that the behaviour is annoying you. If the other person continues to refuse to help a friendly, reasonable person, then they will soon appear to be obstructive. This will leave them at risk of being criticised for their behaviour by the people around them.
It can be uncomfortable and annoying to deal with passive aggressive behaviour in the workplace. However, passive aggressive behaviour is usually temporary and you can cure it with persistent, positive action. Part of being a great communicator is dealing with passive-aggression. As a leader, I’m sure you’ll come across it at some point. Good luck.