How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Boss


How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Boss

Bad bosses are not just a nuisance at the workplace. A leader’s overly critical, manipulative, credit-taking and passive-aggressive behaviour can cause workplace depression, bullying, psychological distress and job dissatisfaction among employees. If you are struggling with the consequences of your manager’s toxic personality, you are not alone. As per Mental Health America’s examination of more than 17,000 employees from 19 industries, 64% of these employees feel that their boss did not provide them with sufficient support. Another survey found that around 44% of employees have quit a job because of their bad boss.

While bad bosses come in many forms, the trickiest type to cope with is one with passive-aggressive tendencies. Some managers will limit employee access to required information or be extremely controlling. Others will pit employees against each other, cold shoulder you when you disappoint them or be indecisive chronically. Reporting to this type of a leader can take a huge toll on you both the employee and the job.

However, the limitations of your boss should not dictate the degree to which you thrive and contribute to your job. Here are the top three strategies you can use to attend to your psychological and emotional health when dealing with a passive-aggressive boss.

Anticipate, then prepare

Most passive-aggressive people follow an elaborate form of evasion. Passive-aggressive bosses will deliberately hide or withhold important information from employees. This information would be critical to complete the project or task. When directly asked for this information, passive-aggressive bosses would evade by stating things like “I am not at the liberty to share more information” or “The information is only available with the senior management”. This leaves employees with no choice but to comply with his boss’s wishes on any decision.

To prevent this type of passive-aggressive practice, one thing employees can do is to ask for such information before beginning the task or project. Asking their boss “Do I have all the information to effectively complete the project” or “is there any information that will change my options”, will force the manager to either free the employee to make decisions or own the decision of withholding information from the outset.

Avoid being blindsided by limiting your boss’s ability to take passive-aggressive choices at important moments. You can do this by clarifying expectations and setting parameters in advance.

Avoid stooping to their level

While it can be tempting to employ passive-aggressive behaviour yourself, it often leads to more conflict than resolution. For instance, if your boss has taken the credit for your hard work, do not take the bait and go around the office to let other employees know that it was your effort that came through. Chanced are many of them would already know. You will gain more respect if you become a bigger person.

Lowering yourself to participate in passive aggression will only reinforce your manager’s behaviour by legitimizing it. Furthermore, using passive-aggressive tactics will make it more difficult for you to use a more mature and direct approach later. You are likely to go against your own principles by practicing the behaviour you clearly do not respect.

Another thing to remember is to not always presume your boss being intentional or is aware of their behaviour. Passive aggressiveness more often is an unconscious response to a perceived threat or anxiety. These bosses tend to be deeply insecure, perpetually anxious or lonely. The best you can do is adopt a compassionate posture toward them.

Call the question respectfully

It is very risky to confront a passive-aggressive boss directly. Firstly, you will be challenging someone who has more power over your work life and secondly, you will be forcing a person who does not want to be confronted into a direct challenge. While you may get high-fives from your colleague for putting your foot down, you may soon find yourself without a job.

There are more effective ways to voice your concerns without triggering the bitter behaviour you are trying to prevent. Going an extra mile to make the relationship with your boss feel safe can give you long-term benefits. Bosses who lean towards passive-aggressive behaviour tend to reduce it when they feel they can trust their employees. So, try to be matter-of-fact and non-judgmental.

Passive-aggressive behaviour at work, at both employee and senior management level, can negatively impact the workplace. Having knowledge and skill to deal with aggressive clients or employees is the best way to maintain decorum. At, we help you learn practical skills to manage aggressive people not only in the workplace but in commercial and personal settings as well.

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