I’ve always wanted to tweet: I hate passive aggressive people. But my fear is that not everyone would get the joke. Nothing is more passive aggressive than complaining about someone on Facebook without naming them. Posting and hoping they see it rather than actually confronting the issue head-on is the epitome of passive aggressiveness.
Are You Passive Aggressive?
Passive aggressive behavior is an indirect response to conflict or confrontation. It’s aggressive because it’s going after an issue or person. It’s passive because it’s doing so indirectly. Rather than handling an issue in a fair and appropriate manner, we hint and hope that the other person will get our real intent no matter what our actual words say. It expresses itself in a variety of ways:
Giving compliments that hurt. “That’s a pretty diamond, but I thought it would be bigger.” “That’s a nice starter home.” “That’s a good grade considering you didn’t study much.” They sound like compliments, but each statement has a little dig in it.
Agreeing to do something, but not following through. Instead of saying you don’t want to do something, you give verbal consent, but then your actions show your true feelings.
Asking questions which refuse certain answers. “Are you crazy?” “Why would anybody want to do that?” “You aren’t going to wear that, are you?” They are phrased in the form of a question, but they are asked so that only one answer is considered appropriate. (See: I’m Tired of Being Nice)
Hinting. “I wish someone would invite me to the party.” “I wish someone would ask me out on a date.” Rather than asking the person to do what you want, you hint in hopes that they will hear and comply.
Saying we’re fine when we aren’t. Pouting, giving the cold shoulder, and silence can all be signs of passive aggressive behavior. When we tell someone we are “fine” when they ask, but our body language clearly proves otherwise, we are expecting people to ignore our words and hear our actions. We are making our feelings known through indirect action. It’s passive aggression.
One defining characteristic of passive aggressive behavior is deniability. The person can deny they are doing what they are obviously doing. They can attack while claiming they aren’t. They can critique while claiming to compliment. By masking their aggression in passivity, they have plausible deniability. Dealing with passive aggressiveness begins by recognizing it within ourselves. Here are three questions to help us understand our own behavior.
3 Questions to Ask
If you find yourself acting in a passive aggressive manner, there are three questions you can ask yourself to get to the root of the issue.
1. Am I avoiding conflict? We choose passive aggressive behavior because we want to avoid conflict. We are unhappy or uneasy about something, but we are afraid to own and communicate our true feelings. So we take an indirect approach. By attempting to identify possible conflict, we can reflect if we are attempting to avoid it and choose to confront the issue directly rather than indirectly. (See: What Every Mother-in-Law Should Know)
2. Am I actually mad at myself and I’m taking it out on someone else? Often times, we act in a passive aggressive manner because we are actually mad at ourselves. Our own displeasure with ourselves is then taken out on other people in an indirect way. By reflecting on our true feelings with ourselves, we can identify the true source of the problem and be more fair with others.
3. What would be a more courageous response? Passive aggressiveness is a form of cowardice. If we would be more courageous, passive aggressive behavior would disappear. Out of fear, we take an indirect approach rather than dealing with the actual issue or person. When you find yourself acting in a passive aggressive way, identify a more courageous response. How would you respond if you knew the conversation would go easy or the conflict wouldn’t be major? That’s probably a better way to respond even if it isn’t easy or if it does cause more conflict.
Many times, we can avoid passive aggressive behavior simply by defining what it is we want and then communicating that desire in the most direct way possible. But even if we recognize it in ourselves, we still have to figure out how to deal with others when they act passive aggressively.
5 Steps to Ending Passive Aggressiveness
1. Identify it. It’s expressed in a variety of ways. In addition to the qualities listed above, we can add sarcasm, repeated lateness, setting high standards but never complimenting subordinates for meeting them, making jokes about others that aren’t funny and then telling that person to lighten up.
2. Don’t get dragged into their behavior. The temptation with passive aggressive behavior is to respond to it passive aggressively. Don’t. Lovingly, but firmly identify it. Recognize it in your own mind and be willing to verbalize what you feel.
3. Make them say what they mean. Rather than pretending like everything is okay, ask them if they are being more aggressive than they would like to admit. “Are you indirectly trying to say….?” This allows the person an opportunity to own their actions. It takes the conversation from hints and innuendos into actionable words. (See: Don’t Be a Social Media Hypocrite)
4. Be assertive but not aggressive. The answer to stopping passive aggressiveness is not simply to end the passivity. The only thing worse than passive aggressiveness may be those who are aggressive aggressive. Recognizing passive aggressive behavior should not give us a feeling of moral superiority. It should empower us to act however we wish. Instead, we should firmly, but compassionately say and do what needs to be said and done.
5. Take control of yourself. Be willing to define your boundaries. Refuse to be moved by another passive aggression. Don’t give in and enable their behavior, but also don’t become hardened toward them. With grace, compassion, patience, and endurance navigate situations with the hopes of moving past the games of passive aggressiveness and interacting in a mature way.
At times, we all choose a passive aggressive approach. Whether driven by fear or ignorance, we lack the courage or knowledge to choose the right way. It’s easier in the moment, but the consequences of our poor approach are always present. Passive aggressiveness must be rejected–at home, in relationships, at work, and anywhere in which we desire to be real, honest, loving, and productive.