In the past, you might have heard someone jokingly refer to themselves or their behavior as "passive-aggressive." Though this term has entered the modern mainstream vernacular, relatively few people actually know what it means. This lack of knowledge about might explain why many people unknowingly exhibit passive-aggressive actions on a regular basis. By familiarizing yourself with this condition, you stand a much better chance of identifying such behavior and responding appropriately to it.
Explaining a confusing term
Perhaps the main reason why passive aggressive behavior is so poorly understood is the term itself. After all, how can someone be both "passive" and simultaneously "aggressive?" Aren't these two words complete antonyms of each other?
The mystery abates once this condition is placed under the microscope. In a nutshell, passive aggressive behavior occurs when a person is angry or frustrated with a certain individual (or individuals), yet cannot tell this person (or people) directly. Instead, the disaffected person will indirectly vent his or her displeasure through actions that may baffle or irritate others. For example, such a disaffected person might start shooting coworkers dirty looks, become cold and distant or even evasive.
In some cases, a passive-aggressive person might completely mask their inner emotions, and might try to get their perceived revenge through deceptive and subtle methods. In other words, they seem "passive" to the outside world, but are in fact harboring a good deal of aggression and anger. Hence, the term "passive-aggressive" is used to describe such behavior. If left to fester, passive aggressive tendencies can undermine relationships between coworkers, lovers, and family members.
Though we're often now aware of it, it's relatively common for people to lapse into passive-aggressive behavior from time to time. Some individuals, however, tend to make a habit of displaying misleading and/or confusing personalities. Often times, passive-aggressive people tip their hand through certain statements or actions. If you notice someone doing one or more of the following things on this list, they might be hiding a passive-aggressive attitude.
Delaying requested tasks
Have you ever had someone agree to do something for you, only to have them drag their feet on the task until the last minute? A passive-aggressive individual might do this in order to deliberately annoy the person that made the request.
Performing a task poorly
In addition to putting things off, a secretly disgruntled friend or coworker might intentionally do a poor job in carrying out requested tasks.
Stonewalling and sulking
Passive-aggressive behavior isn't always entirely camouflaged, as some people can make their displeasure abundantly clear by pouting and emotionally detaching themselves from others. In some cases, a person might cease virtually all communication with his or her peers, speaking only when it's absolutely necessary. While these are obvious signs of resentment and anger, these people often won't give an explanation for their actions.
Some individuals deliberately attempt to push the buttons of others in hopes of sparking heated confrontations. A fair number of such people generally enjoy such clashes.
Secret acts of revenge
A passive-aggressive attitude can manifest itself in brazen yet anonymous acts of revenge. A person who believes that a coworker has wronged him, for instance, may seek to sabotage the coworker's presentation to the company board of directors.
If you've encountered passive-aggressive people in the past, or currently have the misfortune of dealing with moody individuals, you're probably wondering about the best way to respond to such behavior. A good first step would be to develop a thick skin; as noted above, malevolent coworkers and associates often try to bait their targets with antisocial behavior. If you do respond to these provocations, do so in a moderate fashion. Rather than getting in a shouting match, react to such situations in a cool and collected manner.
Certain situations might call for a more aggressive approach, like when dealing with a disruptive subordinate. A supervisor might be able to draw more out of problematic employees by succinctly reminding them of their workplace responsibilities. The key is to be serious without sounding overly emotional. The troublesome employee should be very clear of what is expected from him or her, and be well aware of the consequences of a lackluster performance.
A third option is to try and empathize with a passive-aggressive person. This approach works best with people who aren't maliciously attempting to cause trouble, but are simply frustrated with their own personal circumstances and are unable to properly express their emotions. A good example could involve offering support to a floundering coworker, which might give them the opportunity to get some mental baggage of their chest.
Michael Harris is a contributor to Natural Knowledge 24/7, a monthly newsletter focusing on health and wellness issues. This article, along with many others covering a wide range of subjects, can be found at naturalknowledge247.com.© 2013 Michael V. Harris
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