I really got under a reader’s skin last month when I wrote about passive aggressive behavior. Specifically, this reader, we’ll call her Kate, was upset that saying yes when she means no is considered passive-aggressive behavior. Kate says she often “takes one for the team” and goes along with something she disagrees with. “We have so much on our plates, we’d never get anything done if I spoke up about the things I disagree with in meetings,” Kate told me.
Kate went on to explain that chats in the ladies room, the break area and the parking lot are where she exerts her influence and “gets things done.” By building coalitions outside of the sanction channels (meetings, conversations with the manager, etc.), Kate thinks she is positively affecting change.
This back-channel behavior is passive-aggressiveness at its worst. It pollutes the office environment and poisons the culture.
Classic passive-aggressive behavior is sneaky and covert, just like Kate was behaving. And Kate, like other masters of passive-aggression, got defensive and resistant when confronted with her own behavior. Passive-aggressive people will excessively pass the buck, make excuses or try to pin it on someone else when challenged to justify their behavior.
That’s when it’s a good time to discuss the implications of their behavior – and hold your ground. If you’re talking with someone who came to you with concerns AFTER the meeting, ask them to explain why: “Help me understand why you didn’t share your concern during the meeting.”
And stick with it until you get an answer. Then explain what they need to do differently next time and what you’ll do if they do (or don’t). “I commit to making sure you have a voice in the meeting and are not interrupted. If you don’t speak up, we will not revisit the issue after the meeting like we have done in the past.” And then hold yourself (and them) accountable.
The next time your colleagues (or clients or family members) are showing their passive-aggressive side, use the following steps to encourage direct, straightforward communication.