As a leader and manager of a team, from time to time you come across hostility and conflicts within your sphere of influence. Sometime when things go unchecked they can brew into a larger problem that slowly turns into a cancer for the rest of the office. One of the biggest and more difficult ones to deal with is passive aggressive behavior. This can be a challenge to deal with if ignored and is the most counter-productive to an environment.
Passive aggressive people tend show hostile behaviors but try to do so in subtle ways, most likely because they don’t want to endure conflict. More often than not, however, this type of behavior is easily identified, which can lead to consequences for the passive aggressor in the office.
The passive aggressive person may feel important for spreading the gossip or they seem competent for having the information in-hand. They get the cheap laugh but the consequences will eventually arrive, they will get a reputation as a gossip, a saboteur or a ‘class clown.’
Choosing not to participate in passive aggressiveness at work — either by calling out a co-worker on his or her conduct, bringing in other management teams to mitigate the behavior and/or by not exhibiting such behavior yourself — can also reap benefits.
Those that choose not to deal with passive aggressive behavior people gain respect in the eyes of their colleagues and, most importantly, their behavior is noted by their C-level staff. In most situations, depends on the management. Those high management levels are reassured of people within their teams that can identify and know the proper steps to act to move forward on and they have the potential to join their ranks
If you have passive aggressive colleagues here are five tips to help deal with that behavior in the office:
1. Keep conversations factual
Try not to let feelings get in the way of the facts. “If a colleague is chronically late, for example, instead of saying, ‘You always come in 15 minutes late,’ try saying, ‘The day begins at 9 a.m. I’ve noticed the last three days you have arrived at 9:15 a.m. Please arrive on time.'”
Some people feel that co-workers who shed tears during reviews or other high-emotion situations are passive aggressive. “If you have a ‘cryer’ in your office, be kind, but firm,” she suggests. Say, “Why don’t you step outside and collect yourself and we will continue this then?”
People cannot argue with the facts so don’t feed them with assumptions, innuendos or statements that are open for wild interpretations.
2. Keep a paper trail
Always BCC (blind copy) yourself on important e-mails and documents. Follow up any in-person meeting with an e-mail stating, ‘This is what we discussed. These are my action steps and/or deadlines for moving forward. Please let me know if you have any questions or anticipate any problems.’
Facts are king.
3. Don’t engage or encourage the behavior
If the passive aggressive offender makes an inappropriate or unfunny remark, rather than laughing it off, respond with, ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ It’s more than likely they won’t have the temerity to repeat it. If someone tries to draw you in with gossip, say, smile and say, ‘I’d rather not speculate.’ Then remove yourself from the situation.”
4. Don’t allow others to hide behind technology
If you feel the offending colleague is using e-mail or other technology to wage his war, send a note saying, ‘I’d prefer to discuss this in person. What time works for you?’ You will be surprised how few people respond.”
I can’t count how many times I have been drawn into these situations where controlled, face to face meetings were offered but were ignored or declined. However, when they do happen they work wonderfully and resolve things quickly.
5. Don’t be afraid to probe
Passive-aggressive types sometimes use “fine” in place of other choice expletives, she says.
If you feel his ‘fine’ is taking the place of frustration or anger, probe a bit. ‘I hear you saying ‘fine,’ but I have the sense there’s some underlying frustration. Can I do anything more to help you understand the goal?’ Notice you haven’t said, ‘I sense you are frustrated,’ which can make them clamp down even more.
Through proper conflict resolutions, trying to get the two parties to talk it through, talk with the management, work through the channels of well documented communications there sometime will come a point where you have to bring in HR to manage the people. That’s a last resort but if you as a manager or as a person dealing with a passive aggressive situation you may be left with no choice of you want the problem resolved and productivity and morale to resume. But the longer you let it simmer, the more of an embellished world of gossip may get created around a team, project or individual that may not be able to be countered or mitigated unless you have properly documented the facts which is the only thing that tells the truth.
Unfortunately people are wild, diverse wonderful creatures with varying work styles and it’s up to you as a co-worker and managers within an organization to deal with some of the more unique behaviors to ensure productivity, morale and sometimes safety within an office environment.
Binary Blogger has spent 20 years in the Information Security space currently providing security solutions and evangelism to clients. From early web application programming, system administration, senior management to enterprise consulting I provide practical security analysis and solutions to help companies and individuals figure out HOW to be secure every day.