Quietly Smiling on the Outside; Angry on the Inside

passive aggressiveThe person with all the loud opinions and criticisms may test our patience or have us dreading and planning our next interaction. But it can be the quiet and subtle people that we need to worry about.

Let’s face it, the quiet ones can do a lot of damage before it hits our radar.

Who do you know who:

  • Withholds information letting you struggle unnecessarily and acts surprised that you didn’t know?
  • Quietly plants the seeds of doubt in others without telling you they disagree with you?
  • Does not follow through on something you thought they had agreed to or is unavailable when they said they would be?
  • Forgets to do something or does it poorly – on purpose?

Welcome to a passive-aggressive person! These are the folks who hide hostile behaviours behind passive ones.

Although there are many reasons why someone will choose this behaviour, there are two reasons I see the most:

  1. The power dynamics are uneven and the passive-aggressive person is quiet to avoid conflict because they feel they have something to lose. By staying under the radar, they are avoiding suspected consequences while their behind the scenes behaviours are destructive.
  2. They feel guilty for their anger and try to squash it because they want to appear “nice”. Unable to contain their true emotions, it comes out in passive-aggressive behaviours. This is often because of a lack of self-knowledge or that they were raised in a highly critical environment so they don’t know how to express anger in a healthy and productive manner.

If you have to deal with a passive-aggressive person, here are 5 tips to consider:

  1. Identify the behaviours that are hostile, even if they have sugar-coated them with smiles and empty promises or blamed outside circumstances for their behaviours.
  2. Use assertive language to clearly identify what they are doing and what you expect in the future.
  3. Set boundaries and limits with clear consequences if they will not follow through.
  4. Find out their “why” or their “hot button”. Ask them if they value your relationship enough to do something differently to avoid conflict in the future and get a commitment from them as to future behaviours.
  5. Identify if there is someone protecting them from facing consequences and determine if you have any influence with them.

We must not help passive-aggressives cripple themselves emotionally by enabling poor behaviour. In fact, whether they are hiding behind excuses (ex: a bad childhood, chronic drama or mental illness such as anxiety), we must help them develop responsibility and resilience. That is done through respectful, honest and direct communication where you express your expectations.

What I really hope you will take away from this is that we are being kind when we help them identify and choose mature and honest behaviours while showing them respectful ways to express their underlying anger.

What do you do when someone disengages and sneaks around or procrastinates (forgets) their tasks? How do you set boundaries and help them move beyond these undesirable patterns of behaviour? I’d love to hear from you.

If you know of a group who would like to know how to deal with the different communication styles in a team or organization, I’d love an introduction.

Have a conflict free day!

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