The people you work with can really make or break your work life, and a passive aggressive co-worker is probably the biggest danger to your job happiness. A boring colleague can be avoided, a loud-mouth can be drowned out by some headphones and an ambient chill vibes Soundcloud playlist, but someone who is passive-aggressive can make your blood boil on the daily.
One of the tell tale signs that you are a victim of passive aggressive behaviour is that you feel like you’re going crazy. You can’t quite pinpoint why interacting with this person leaves you feeling unhappy and you might begin to wonder if you’re being irrational.
Passive aggression is just that: passive. The person is not outwardly aggressive, but it’s bubbling up inside of them and coming out in a way that makes you feel really bad. If you feel anger, rage, confusion and helplessness about your interactions with your co-worker then it’s probably because they are being passive aggressive towards you.
The red flags that your co-worker is being passive aggressive
Not sure whether they’re being passive-aggressive or just an annoying person? Here are the tell-tale signs:
1 They procrastinate
We all are guilty of spending at least 50% of our day desperately refreshing our Instagram feed but when someone purposefully procrastinates so that it negatively affects your work it’s a form of passive aggressiveness. If your co-worker purposefully takes forever to get things done it’s their way of telling you ‘I’m mad at you’ without actually saying it. This can also play out through them always running late, taking long and inconvenient lunch breaks or taking suspicious sick days that they know will mess you around.
2 They give you back-handed compliments
This allows them to look like the good guy while undermining you. Saying things like ‘I love your hair! I wish I had the time and money to splurge on myself like you do,’ is their way of manipulating you into feeling bad, giving them a sense of power over you.
3 They withhold information and leave you out
Sabotage is a big red flag and another way a passive-aggressive co-worker can try to wield power over you is by exclusion. They ‘forget’ to CC you in important emails or it *totally* slips their mind that you were supposed to be included in that meeting.
4 They aren’t direct with you
These people do a lot of wistful wishing instead of getting straight to the point because they hate confrontation. Saying ‘I really want this file looked at but I suppose you’re too busy for that today, what a pity,’ is super passive aggressive, and annoying AF. Just say what you mean!
5 They leave notes
Another day, another passive-aggressive Post-It note. Rather than dealing with issues face-to-face, they will stick a note on any surface they can. Usually with a sarcastic smiley face.
6 They give you the silent treatment
This is one of the ultimate passive-aggressive moves. They aren’t technically doing anything wrong, but their silence is a statement, and it’s infuriating. It’s a way for them to avoid conflict while provoking you, leaving you to be the one to blow up in rage and them to play innocent.
But why do they do it though?
We are taught by society that it’s not polite or productive to be assertive so a lot of people don’t learn how to stand up for themselves and be straightforward. A passive aggressive person is terrified of face-to-face confrontation and goes to extreme lengths to avoid it. According to Louisa Niehaus, a trauma psychotherapist, some people are ‘not taught emotional management and assertiveness. As a result, they use silence, sulking and other manipulative behaviours when interacting with others.’
How to deal
Don’t be passive-aggressive back
This is hard but it’s the best way to deal with the situation. You need to set the tone for your interactions, so focus on being clear, straightforward and professional. It’s very tempting to retaliate to a passive-aggressive email with an equally sarcastic one, but this doesn’t help things. They want you to take the bait and get mad at them. Because their behaviour has been ‘passive’ they then get to play the victim and make you look like you’ve overreacted. Remain assertive, clear and concise when interacting with them.
Don’t get personal
Whatever you do, do not accuse them of being passive aggressive to their face; no one would take that well. It’s annoying to have to tiptoe around these kinds of people but they won’t respond well to feeling attacked.
This behaviour is full of miscommunications and confusion so counteract that with straightforwardness. Instead of silently fuming ask them directly ‘Is there a reason why I was left out of that email?’ or ‘Why was I not invited to that meeting?’ Being specific gives them no choice but to answer you. Hopefully, they will think twice the next time they are about to act in this way, and over time they will unlearn this behaviour (fingers crossed).
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