Hot & Cold:

Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behaviour at Work & Uni

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Working in groups is no easy task- be it working with your classmates on those ever-dreaded group assignments, or working with a group of co-workers, there are times when things may get…tricky.

Considering the many different personalities that can be found within a single group, it’s not surprising that there may be the occasional dispute or disagreement.

Sometimes resolution is a quick process- with differences resolved via discussion, or even the occasional argument. Sometimes however, in-built resentment (or an outright petty attitude) can lead to some folks behaving in a passive-aggressive manner.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is the act of communicating negative feelings (like anger, disappointment or irritation) - without actually saying anything.

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It is also referred to as concealed aggression and involves inaction, rather than action. Instead of stating their feelings outright, a person engaging in passive aggressive behaviour could instead practise:

  • Avoidance: This covers a range of acts, from refusing to acknowledge a specific topic of discussion, to outright ignoring a person and refusing to acknowledge them. (Note: This should not be confused with a genuine lack of awareness or miscommunication.) This ties in with another form of passive-aggressive behaviour, namely…
  • Silence: This speaks for itself, ironically enough. Someone using the silent treatment will avoid you as much as possible, and will remain tight-lipped, refusing to engage in conversation unless absolutely necessary, cold-shouldering you to show that you have displeased them.
  • Sarcasm & Subtle Remarks: Someone who does this will make sarcastic comments about/ takes subtle digs at you- undermining your confidence and/or playing on your nerves (especially since they can be ambiguous enough to wave off as “just a joke” or harmless teasing).
  • Weaponised Kindness: This also ties in with sarcasm and subtle remarks- to an extent. For example, a classmate who is irate or angry at another’s negligence in a group project may go the extra mile to help them complete their share of the work. Later, however, they might make comments about how they always make sure to prioritise their responsibilities.
  • Weaponised Incompetence: This occurs when someone pretends that they do not know or are unable to complete a task, or outright botch a task in order to avoid doing the work altogether, or to punish the person assigning it to them. (Note: this should not, however, be confused with someone who genuinely does not know how to do something.)

Considering how it can feel unnecessarily petty or vindictive, do keep in mind that this behaviour might not be completely intentional!

Sometimes, people might unconsciously indulge in passive aggressive behaviour in an attempt to (ironically enough) ‘keep the peace’ and avoid outright conflict. Others however, may be aware that they are being passive aggressive- but refuse to acknowledge it, believing that their behaviour is justified.

However in the long run, passive aggressive behaviour can wear down relationships, breaking down communication and trust- ESPECIALLY if done intentionally.

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Some methods you can use to counter passive-aggressive behaviour from your peers include:

  • Communicate: Instead of getting upset, it may help to reach out and attempt to fix the issue calmly- especially since their behaviour is an attempt to convey how they feel.

    Speak to them directly, and communicate your feelings about the situation- and apologise, if appropriate. Hopefully, this gives you and the other party the opportunity to clear the air and work towards a resolution. If they refuse to cooperate in spite of this, however, then you may need to escalate and…
  • Ignore It: If they refuse to respond to any efforts to communicate, you may have to ignore their behaviour altogether. While it may be exasperating, people behaving passive-aggressively often do so because they are seeking a reaction towards their behaviour; a sign that they have made their feelings clear.

    Instead of reacting, ignore their behaviour and act normal. This stops you from responding to their behaviour with more passive-aggressiveness and goes some way towards stopping the cycle. However, if they continue to escalate to the point that it affects your work or the project you both may be working on…
  • Set a Boundary: When someone continuously refuses to acknowledge their attitude, it helps to establish just where you draw the line with their behaviour.

    For example, you might say that you will not continue calling after a certain number of tries if you are receiving the silent treatment. You may also opt to distance yourself from them until they acknowledge their own behaviour.

It may not be the easiest to deal with- but try not to let it get you down!

Most of the time, you can counter passive aggressive behaviour by being polite and professional- and remember, it’s reflects on their attitude and mindset, rather than yours.

Related Topics:

General Psychology