How to Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Coworker at Your Job

How to Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Coworker at Your Job
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If you’ve ever had to deal with a passive-aggressive colleague, you know how challenging it can be. Research shows that passive aggression has become a common workplace problem.

Passive aggression is defined as being unkind without directly saying anything negative. Passive aggressors often complain about their problems behind other people’s backs. They might even try to get revenge by spreading rumors or gossiping about their targets.

While passive-aggressive behavior can seem harmless, it can have serious consequences for your career and relationships. If you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker, here are some ways to handle the situation:

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1. Don’t feed into it.

Passive-aggressive behavior is often fueled by fear, insecurity, anger, jealousy, resentment, and confusion.

But whatever it is, there’s no reason to give in to it. Instead, take a step back and think about how you might react if someone treated you like that. How would you feel? What would you say? Then use those responses to guide yourself in dealing with passive-aggressive.

If your coworker is passively aggressive to get what they want, you’re better off ignoring them.

Doing so will teach them that passive aggression works. And while you may be tempted to respond to their passive aggressiveness with more passive aggression or direct aggression, that won’t help either of you. By responding in kind, you’re rewarding their behavior.

Instead, return passive-aggressive behavior with passive-aggressive behavior or direct aggression. This will reinforce the idea that passive-aggression is acceptable. It’s likely to increase the frequency of the behavior.

2. Understand the causes of passive-aggressive behavior.

Passive aggressive behaviors occur when someone acts in ways that make you think they don’t like you. This could mean that they don’t say anything positive about you, they give you mixed messages, or they need to follow directions. Passive aggressors may even seem friendly, but they’re just trying to hurt you.

People who act passively-aggressively usually have underlying issues, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or anger management problems. If you notice yourself acting passive aggressively, talk to a counselor or therapist to learn more about why you behave this way.

You can also look for clues about your coworker’s behavior. For example, does she avoid eye contact or seems distracted? Does she always interrupt others when they speak? Is she overly critical or dismissive?

3. Apply consequences if the behavior persists.

If your coworker keeps acting like this, it might be time to enforce some consequences. This could mean anything from telling them directly that their behavior is unacceptable to taking away certain privileges. In addition to making sure the person knows why their behavior is wrong, you’ll want to give them a chance to correct themselves.

You can have another direct dialogue about the observed behaviors, how they made you feel, and the consequences for other behavior.

You can say something along the lines of “I noticed that you acted inappropriately towards me yesterday. I’m very disappointed that you chose to act that way because I thought we had a good relationship. I’d appreciate it if you’d apologize to me and tell me what happened.”

If they show no improvement, you’re better off avoiding them altogether. Your best bet is to avoid being around them, especially if you work closely together. Try to keep your distance from them on social media too.

4. Take care of yourself.

When we work long hours, our bodies are under stress. This can lead to exhaustion and make us cranky. When we’re exhausted, we become less productive and feel like we don’t have the energy to deal with difficult situations.

To avoid getting burned out, try taking breaks throughout the day. If you’re working late, set aside 15 minutes to walk around the building or go outside for some fresh air. You’ll find that you have more energy to tackle problems once you return.

If you want to improve your mood, talk to someone about what’s bothering you. Talking to friends or family members helps because they won’t judge you. Just expressing your feelings without worrying about hurting someone else’s feelings can help relieve tension.

And remember to eat well and exercise regularly. These activities boost endorphins, chemicals naturally produced in our brains and bodies that give us positive emotions.

5. Model assertiveness.

If you’re wondering how to deal with a passive-aggressive colleague, model the appropriate behavior.

Assertiveness is one way to ensure that people know the proper channels for expressing themselves. If someone is being rude or mean, don’t take it personally; speak to them privately about why they might be acting like that.

Some tips for this: Don’t let them know you’ve noticed their behavior. This could lead to them thinking that you’re judging them. And even if you feel they’re being rude, try to avoid getting into a heated argument. Instead, use phrases such as “I see some things here that I’d like to talk to you about,” or “Can we discuss this?”

The goal isn’t to change your coworkers’ minds but to give them feedback. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the person altogether. They’ll either respond positively or negatively when you say something to someone. But if you miss them, they won’t feel comfortable bringing up their concerns again.

6. Be Honest.

The next step in managing workplace conflicts is to find a way to speak honestly about what happened without making anyone feel attacked or defensive. This doesn’t mean you have to say something negative; rather, it means you must be able to explain how you felt during the incident and why you chose to act as you did.

When we talk about “radical candor,” we refer to honesty without defensiveness. When you make yourself vulnerable enough to admit that you don’t understand why your coworker acted the way he did, you open yourself up to receive feedback that helps you grow and learn.

Think about it this way: If you had been raised in a family where everyone always talked about everything openly, you might think that’s the best approach. But if you grew up in a home where no one ever discussed feelings, you might realize it’s better to keep things to yourself.

7. Look at the Bigger Picture.

If you spot this behavior in your office, it could mean one thing: Your team members aren’t feeling valued.

A recent study found that passive-aggressive employees tend to work in teams where they don’t feel like they can express themselves openly without fear of being judged or criticized.

These workers often end up playing nice because they want to avoid conflict. But this type of behavior doesn’t help anyone. It hurts productivity and relationships.

Most people are pretty decent. So, if you notice passive aggression in your office, look beyond the person doing it. Ask yourself why they might be acting this way and what you can do to improve things.

8. Build a Relationship.

The best way to avoid being hit by passive-aggressiveness is to take it out of the equation. Once you’ve solved your immediate problem, you’ll want to ensure no lingering resentments or misunderstandings left over. You don’t want to continue to work with someone who feels like he’s constantly walking on eggshells around you.

To do that, start by making a genuine effort to connect with them. “You must show people that you care about them,” says Frey. “If you just say ‘Hi’ every day, they’ll see that you don’t really mean it.” If you’re friendly enough, they might even open up to you. But don’t push too hard. Let them come to you.

Once they trust you, they’ll feel more confident opening up about problems. And since you already know how they operate, you’ll be able to respond appropriately without getting caught up in their drama.

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To put it mildly, working with passive-aggressive coworkers isn’t easy. Recognizing passive-aggressive behavior in others requires time and effort spent getting to know people. It’s not easy to figure out, but it’s well worth it when you do. We anticipate less tension, less conflict, and more collaboration.

There are ways to improve your working relationship with a passive-aggressive coworker. You should first talk with your employee to determine if they are willing to alter their conduct.

If that doesn’t help and things seem to be getting worse, you should talk to your supervisor or someone in Human Resources. Finally, keep going if you cannot influence another person’s actions.

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