How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Coworker


How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Coworker

Thanks to its ‘passive’ nature, passive-aggressive behaviour is often difficult to spot. Once uncovered, passive-aggressiveness is also difficult to eliminate, especially in the professional atmosphere of an office.

Most of our interactions in the office occur between co-workers. Whether it be discussing the project, planning for the weekend, or catching up with office gossip at the coffee machine, communication with co-workers determines your mood, office spirit and even your productivity.

In such an atmosphere, a co-worker with passive-aggressive behaviour can seriously dampen the office environment. Their indirect way of communication, projecting dual personalities and unpredictable behaviour can disorient you and your work. Instead of letting these employees get the best of you, you can employ the following strategies to deal with them.

1. Understand what motivates them

While passive-aggressive behaviour can be greatly frustrating, it is a good idea to pause before you react to a coworker who could be acting this way.

Maybe your coworker feels offended, wronged, or threatened. But their ‘fear’ or passive nature stops them from being direct. They seek passive outlets to act out their aggression.

Knowing the reason behind their behaviour can help you cool down and take a more logical and measured response.

2. Do not lash out or overreact

Having control over your own emotions is another big challenge while dealing with passive-aggressive people. If you allow your emotions to get the better of you, they can harm your performance and focus.

Instead, look at the situation more objectively and proceed mindfully. Imagine the conflict to be inside a snow-globe and you outside of it. This exercise allows you to deal with situations without letting your emotions conquer you.

3. Be honest

You will be condoning their behaviour if you do not say anything to your passive-aggressive colleague. Being kind and honest is an appropriate and healthy way to confront passive aggressive behaviour. Whether it is in an informal setting, a meeting with a shared manager or the HR, finding a constructive way to bring forth their actions and inform them of their behaviour is a necessary step.

4. Use Your Emotional Intelligence to Your Advantage

Empathy is an essential requirement in the workplace and plays a pivotal role in dealing with passive-aggressive people. By bringing emotional intelligence into conversations with them, passive-aggressive people can be made to feel safe and encourage them to be more direct.

The best way to accomplish this is by placing yourself in their shoes and asking probing questions gently. Phrases like: “I am listening”, “Can you fill me in…”, and “Help me understand…” can help them become more open and direct.

Passive-aggressive people want to be heard and allowing them to speak freely, without any judgement will allow them to be more comfortable.

5. Build a relationship

After you have resolved the initial conflict with the passive-aggressive coworker, you may want to create a foundation to avoid future issues. Once you build this trust, your coworker will use less passive-aggression with you. After they have realised that you are not the threat, they will feel comfortable to approach you with their issue.

6. Look at the Bigger Picture

If you notice this behaviour in several colleagues, you can consider an exterior factor triggering this behaviour rather than the individuals themselves. Factors like the corporate culture or a common supervisor who is too authoritative can trigger passive-aggressive behaviour in employees who have limited to zero outlets at the workplace to vent their frustration.

Passive-aggressive behaviour can denote low morale at the workplace if more than one individuals are using this tactic.

Creating a trusting, honest and open workplace will allow everyone to thrive.

Passive-aggressive behaviour can have toxic effects on a workplace or any other social environment. Knowledge and skill are essential to effectively deal with such behaviour practices. At Preferred Training Networks, we offer top of the line aggressive behaviour management courses to enable you to effectively deal with such situations. We have highly qualified facilitators referred by Australia’s top 500 companies. We have over 300 courses available on behaviour management, upskilling, communication skills and more. You can get course outlines on our website

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