We all have had a coworker who on the surface appears to be agreeable and supportive, but behind the scenes sabotages others. Sadly, this hidden anger which comes out indirectly and results in spoiling relationships, careers but also happiness is more common than we think in today’s workplaces, it is often characterized as the “cancer of organizations” and it has a name; Passive Aggressive Behaviour.
Let’s unmask the “passive-aggressive”
Sometimes obvious and sometimes not so much, Passive Aggressive Behavior can take many forms, but it is mainly described as a non-verbal aggression that shows negative behavior, a type of emotional abuse in peoples’ relationships that ruins trust. Analytically, people instead of communicating honestly their anger and upset, they make obvious changes in behavior, either concealed and hidden or obverted ones.
“Passive aggression is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger.” (Long, Long & Whitson, 2009).
The impact of employees with passive-aggressive behavior is extremely huge. According to Fast Company, the cost of employees with passive-aggressive behavior cost the U.S economy over 37 billion in lost productivity each year.
The main types of behaviors that speak whether someone is or isn’t possibly passive-aggressive are sarcasm; silent treatment; withholding of praise; criticism; sabotage; unreliability; work slowdowns or even stoppage. A simple example of passive aggressive behavior in workplace is a colleague that leaves a note about the report he keeps “forgetting” to finish.
Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute (LSCI), recognizes five Passive Aggressive Behavioral Traits:
- Opposition, and resistance of demands to function at a level expected by others
- Anger through passive resistance, compliant defiance, and sugarcoated hostility
- Poor Self-confidence
- Individuals feel cheated, unappreciated and misunderstood and chronically complain to others
- Individuals blame their failures on the behaviors of others
5 +1 Types of Passive Aggressive Behavior
When thinking of passive aggressive behaviors, we tend to think about “happy” people that appear to be agreeable, but then sabotage others behind their backs. Certainly, this type of Passive Aggressive Behavior – the so-called “Hypocritical” – may be the most known but several others follow:
- The Resentful: Withholds important information from others so that they struggle to succeed
- The Negative: Uses acts and expressions of procrastination, stubbornness, backhanded compliments, gossip and/or sarcasm.
- The Disingenuous: Avoids sharing his/her honest opinion.
- The Insincere: Gets angry with others without telling them the reasons why.
- The Untrustworthy: Says things that don’t match his/her actions.
Surprisingly, the passive aggressive person is said to be completely unaware of his/her negative behavior and how he/she affects others. It is seen as an (automatic) defense mechanism that one uses to protect himself.
5 questions to learn if you are behaving in a Passive Aggressive way
- Do you often find yourself in moody silence when you are unhappy with someone else?
- Do you avoid coworkers with whom you are angry upset?
- Do you have narcissistic tendencies and deeply ingrained distorted beliefs?
- Do you put off doing things as a way of punishment to other employees?
- Do you sometimes use sarcasm to avoid engaging in meaningful conversations?
How to handle Passive Aggressive Behavior
In case that an individual spots signs of Passive Aggressive Behavior such as a reminder mentioning “Not sure if you saw my last email…” then it is of great importance that he/she keeps his/her anger in check and do not aggressively confront the employee. For example, it would be ideal to not mirror the hostility by replying: “Not sure if you understand how busy I am…” But rather typing, “Thanks for the reminder.”
- Recognize the signs of such behavior
- Keep your anger in check and don’t copy the behavior
- Step back and give the person some time to work through these feelings
- Help the person understand of why he/she is upset or what he/she is feeling
- Help the person improve his/her self-awareness
- Encourage the person to communicate directly and practice mindfulness
To wrap it up, there is too much at stake when it comes to building a workplace’s culture and shutting down passive-aggressive patterns may be the most important. However, passive-aggressive behavior is rapidly becoming embedded into the culture of the organization and this is a result of lack of awareness spread by leadership positions. Being profitable may be hard enough, preventing a company’s culture gone from great to terrible is much harder!