How to correct passive-aggressive attitude

Passive-aggressive behaviour at the workplace can sour things between managers and their team members. It is a negative trait and must be corrected. Identify if you are a passive-aggressive person and how you can change your behaviour and build better relationships.

I am attending a workshop on management and skills and relationships…and one of the speakers today, gave a talk on passive-aggression, especially at the workplace. Passive-aggressive behaviour is so common that most of us don't realise that it exists. The best managers indulge in it and take pride in how they tackle issues, using this behaviour. Many of us use passive-aggression in our routine communications. It'll surprise you to know that you too can be passive aggressive. I am sharing here, the lessons that I learnt today.

You think you are being polite when you are actually just being passive-aggressive. It is very easy for us to think that we are genuinely pleasant and that we honestly do not harbour any ill-feelings or bitterness. But, the fact is that we just disguise our aggression with a veneer of amiability, but the aggression is still there, and just as visible.

We want to send our message across, but at the same time do not want to be labelled as rude or argumentative. The point is that we want to be heard, we want to have our say, but we still want to wear the tag of congeniality. That is one of the traits of a passive-aggressive person. It is a common characteristic.

Most of us are aggressive, some openly so, while others conceal it behind the tactful use of words. The latter kinds are passive-aggressive people. They use a careful play of words, to fool people into believing that they are friendly. But, it's easy to see through the façade. Do you fall into that category, let's find out.

Is your gentleness an eyewash

You are a gentle person, with a quiet demeanour. You do not believe in hostility, especially not in your dealings with people you work with. You don't hesitate to boast of your 'special' quality. You are quick to recognise antagonistic behaviour in others because it is so different from your own, calm self. You take extra effort to not be like the others. But does it work - perhaps not.

When you are extra cautious in how you interact with others, you temper down your responses, to make them sound something like this – "Maybe, that's just me, but I think you should have…" Your intent is obvious; you do not want to sound hurtful, so you subtly cloak your disagreement. In your eyes, you are in the clear. However, the other person may still see it as passive-aggressive behaviour, because you do actually, tell them off.

The most commonly used phrases that reflect your true intent and passive-aggressive behaviour are discussed below.

I am curious…I am surprised…I am confused

When your opening line begins with any of these phrases, you put the other person on the defensive. Your opening line tells them that they are incorrect and that you are fault-finding is obvious.

We often come across people who mask their criticism, instead of being open about what they have to say. When they start talking, it becomes apparent that they were neither confused nor surprised or curious. When you follow this approach, the other person sees through your act. It is not a very friendly approach.

So, how do you say what you have to, without sounding rude? Why not be direct and say what you have to. When you are direct in your approach, you shift the focus from the person to the issue. Because, when you start your sentence with I am surprised, you actually question their ability.

What is the solution

Direct approach – tell them what you think and why, and ask for their views. And then take the discussion forward, until a solution is found.

I thought you knew how it works…what is to be done…

That is condescending behaviour. When you tell someone that you thought they understood something, you indirectly voice your opinion on their stupidity. Consider a case where a team member puts in a lot of effort on a project report and it is not in the format that you wanted. Your first reaction is to belittle them – "I thought you knew how to…" You kill their confidence right there and create an uneasy atmosphere.

Stop to take stock of things – did you make yourself understood? Did you spell out what was needed to be done? Did you communicate – or did you expect the person to read your mind?

How do you deal with such a situation

Follow the direct approach. Start by saying, "You've put in a lot of effort, but it's not what I wanted". "Let's see if we can tweak it a bit and still make it work." "How about you add a little more data and…"

The aim is to encourage the person, without deflating their ego and their effort. Appreciate and follow it with a suggestion.

But…Actually…I think….I would have…"

There is nothing offensive in interspacing the conversation with these phrases. But, the use of these words, indicate otherwise. When you tell someone that you were "actually surprised" by their work, you are patronising them. Because it is far from a compliment, you're telling the person that you did not think of them as capable enough, and are hence "actually surprised" by their work.

The same goes with the use of 'but' and 'I think' and 'I would have'. The message that you send out is that the other person is incapable of excellence and you are better than them, because, of what you would have done in their place.

Watch how your words can leave a huge negative impact.

The right way to compliment

Do away with these 'filler' words and say what has to be said. Provide reasons, justify and remain on the issue. Do not make it about yourself and always be genuine with a compliment.

Passing thoughts

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a lot more damaging than conversations that are blunt. Passive-aggressive behaviour is demeaning because it is a subtle attack on the other person. It is also a power game, where the passive-aggressive person displays their authority, without wanting to sound authoritative. They are often manipulative and justify themselves; they resort to attention seeking tactics where they highlight their good qualities and gain sympathy, playing the victim.

Rather than expressing constructive criticism in such language, just go ahead and say what you have to, politely. You will be respected for your frankness. Remember, passive-aggressive behaviour is hurtful, even though it's sugar-coated.

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