Get active about passive-aggression

Passive aggression is way of covertly expressing anger. It involves using incongruent words, tones and body language to convey contempt. For example, someone might say the words “I don’t have a problem.” The meaning of these words might be totally undermined by the speaker’s voice-tone. This is a passive aggressive way of raising a problem.

Many passive aggressive people feel angry and bitter. For example, your colleague Jamie is jealous about your recent promotion. Instead of taking responsibility for his feelings, Jamie resorts to passive aggression. He spreads rumours that your promotion was a result of favouritism. He actively avoids congratulating you. Whenever you talk to him, Jamie walks away.

For people like Jamie, feeling inward anger is a normal state. They repress their feelings and become bitter. They resort to abusive tactics in order to feel better about themselves. But you don’t have to put up with their nasty tactics. Here are three steps to take when dealing with people like Jamie.

1. Identify the pattern

Passive aggression is a pattern of behaviour – not a one-off event. Do you know someone who regularly uses the following tactics? If so, you’re dealing with passive aggression.

  • Saying something ‘nice’ in a sarcastic tone of voice
  • Joking at others’ expense
  • Agreeing to do something, then ‘forgetting’ to do it
  • Sulking
  • Dragging out a simple task – just to annoy you

2. Track the pattern

You can’t confront passive aggression if you can’t describe it. But the tactics used by passive aggressive people are subtle. So you need to hone your observation skills. Watch the passive aggressor’s body language closely. Notice the small actions they use to express contempt – for example sneering or rolling their eyes when you talk. Also pay attention to a passive aggressor’s voice tone. This is what makes their message offensive. For example, they might sound sarcastic as they say “You look nice today.” It is their voice tone which creates the sarcasm.

3. Interrupt the pattern

Most people ignore passive aggressive attacks, because they don’t know what else to do. This means passive aggressive people expect you to react passively. You can catch them by surprise by breaking their normal pattern. Instead of tolerating their tactics, speak up immediately. Rather than ignoring their behaviour, name it. Read this month’s verbal self–defense section to find out how.

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