Passive Aggression – Avoid the Conflict
When I first heard the term “passive-aggressive” I thought the person was joking, giving me an example of an oxy-moron. I soon learned that not only was she not joking, but that I would have to learn how to deal with these tricksters in order to move ahead in life.
Passive-aggressive behavior frustrates everyone involved and doesn’t ever help anyone. Particularly the one who instigated the behavior. My first experience with a passive-aggressive personality left me feeling that I had lost my mind. “No one in their logical mind would behave that way!” I fumed.
And that should have been my first clue. Normal people do not behave that way. I met the woman at my son’s school. She seemed normal, gregarious, involved,if perhaps a little intense. We became acquainted because our sons were in the same class and had both joined Scouts.
Everything seemed fine until she began calling me and telling me things really bothered me, even though she sounded so sweet on the phone and claimed that, really, everything was fine, but she thought I would want to know.
Then as we began to become more involved, both in Scouts and with each other, I noticed even more peculiar behavior. I would ask her is she had completed a task she had agreed to do. “Well, no, I haven’t been able to do that. But it doesn’t matter. Just go on ahead. You don’t need that done.” Was she kidding? We were ready to start the annual fund raiser and she was supposed to have printed all the forms to pass out to the boys that night at the meeting. I felt as if she was playing with my mind.
Only later did I learn that passive aggressive behavior is “sugar-coated hostility” and she had no intention of doing what she had agreed to do. She wanted to see how I would solve the problem. She sounded so sweet over the phone, even in person. But I soon began to look beyond the words to see what was really going on. If she didn’t want to do something…she should just say so.
But that is not the way of the passive-aggressive personality. I learned that she would do anything to avoid direct conflict. I’m a very direct person, so we probably didn’t make for a very good pairing.
Soon we devolved into episodes of sarcasm, then the silent treatment, then she moved into sabotaging my efforts by not only making me late, but making it look like I hadn’t kept my word.
To this day, I don’t know if what she did was intentional. She had a home life I couldn’t even imagine living and perhaps she envied mine. All I know is that I learned quickly to ignore any hostility and assign a critical task to someone I knew would follow through. I began to set limits and when she exceeded those, I called her out on them. I had to be very specific about what was expected of her and when she held a critical assignment, I called her regularly to make sure she would come through.
I recognized her techniques. I have even found myself resorting to them occasionally. But once I saw how destructive they could be, I held myself to an even higher standard. Passive-aggressive sounds somewhat innocuous, but it can really ruin your organization. Identify those who participate in that behavior, and then take steps to stop it. You don’t have to be aggressive, but you do have to be assertive and be willing to confront the person.