Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behaviour

What is passive aggressive behaviour and how can you cope with those who express their anger indirectly?

Are you around someone on a daily basis who is passive aggressive?  Is it a friend, colleague or family member who is becoming increasingly difficult because of their indirect ways of expressing anger?

It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with someone who is unhappy, but refuses to talk about it directly. There are, however, several ways to better handle the situation and maintain your cool. 

What is passive aggressive behaviour? 

Passive aggressive behaviour is where someone indirectly expresses hostility and anger via stubbornness, procrastination, and unreasonable behaviour.  They will try to keep their feelings inside, but end up giving out mixed messages and will deliberately try to make things difficult for others.  Although these actions may be more subtle and underhand, they can be much more destructive – greatly affecting friends, family and colleagues. 

Strategies to help you cope 

When dealing with someone who is passive aggressive, it is important to be aware of their behaviours and approach them in a neutral and composed way. These individuals are looking to push your buttons.

The following steps are key:

  • Don’t take it personally – It is important to remember that the anger harboured by someone who is passive aggressive stems from their life situation and background. Therefore it is not your responsibility. It is very likely you are just the most convenient person for them to take this anger out on.
  • Moderate your response – When dealing with passive aggressive people, aim to stay as calm and composed as possible – keeping your voice steady and your language neutral.
  • Empathise – This may be tricky but can disarm someone who is passive aggressive. Reflect their suppressed feelings – making it clear you recognise they may be frustrated and that this may be difficult for them to deal with.
  • Be direct – If someone is being stubborn and deliberately refusing to do something, be very clear and assertive about what you expect from them. Keep everything factual and avoid emotion. Level-headedness is your best defence against passive aggressive behaviour.