advertisement
advertisement

How to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers

If you’re tired of dealing with an easily annoyed and conflict-avoidant coworker, here’s what you need to do.

How to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers
[Source images: Kuzmik_A/Getty Images; Grooveland Designs/Unsplash]

If you’re unhappy with a situation at work, one option is to confront the issue head on. While that may be the quickest way to resolve a conflict, a lot of people resort to another tactic: passive aggression, or using underhanded comments to vent frustration.

advertisement
advertisement

According to a survey from the language-learning platform Preply, 73% of American workers said they have experienced passive aggression at work; 52% admit to being passive-aggressive at work themselves; and 38% feel their workplace incentivizes passive-aggressive communication.

The survey found that the worst types of passive aggression include shifting blame, patronizing, and denying anger. And the worst passive-aggressive phrases are:

  • “As you, no doubt, are aware . . . “
  • “For future reference”
  • “Friendly reminder”
  • “CC’ing [my boss] for visibility”
  • “Per my last email”

“Intrinsically, most of us are nice people,” says Salman Raza, a soft skills consultant and author of Life’s Non Conformities. “We don’t always express displeasure out of politeness. We let the annoyance build up within ourselves, and it can manifest in our own behavioral changes where we may start using a different choice of words and taunting comments.”

advertisement
advertisement

If you’re on the receiving end of passive-aggressive comments from a coworker or your boss, Raza says the first step is to identify and label the intensity of it. “Am I annoyed, or am I outraged?” he says. “Once you identify the intensity of the displeasure, then we need to find a way to counter that feeling.”

Raza adds that it’s important to not associate the emotion with yourself. “For example, don’t say, ‘I’m angry,'” he says. “Instead, remind yourself, ‘there is anger in me.’ There’s a difference. When there is anger in me, and I need to get rid of that anger, our brains start recognizing that there is an uninvited emotion that doesn’t reflect the best of me. Then it’s an easier process to detach.”

Once you can detach from the emotion, you can get rid of it. The best thing to do is to not react in the moment. Instead, respond to the person when your emotions are not running high.

advertisement

“Reaction is impulsive, whereas response is measured,” says Raza. “Let it go for the time being but don’t ignore it.”

When you do approach the individual, the key to starting the conversation is to not assign blame. Instead, address the situation with an observable behavior rather than a generic statement. For example, Raza suggests saying, “When you made this comment, it made me feel this way. It gives me the impression that you don’t trust me.”

“Feeling is true, but what you’re feeling may not necessarily be a factual situation,” he says. “While it is fact for you, it may not be for them. This keeps the conversation in a positive, constructive tone, instead of blaming and putting the person on the defensive.”

advertisement

The other person may not be aware that their comments are being interpreted negatively. And Raza says that when people exhibit passive-aggressive behavior, there may be something else going on with them that has nothing to do with you. They may be under stress and venting it in the wrong place.

“When you put on an investigative hat, you might recognize that it’s not personal, or it’s not because they are angry with you,” says Raza. “Something may be going on in their head or in their life that is instigating that behavior. Once you realize that it’s nothing to do with you, you don’t need to feel defensive.”

Raza says it can help to remember how you might deal with your young child. You have unconditional love for them, which makes it easy to overlook comments from them that can be hurtful. While you don’t have the same feelings with your colleagues and boss, the principle remains the same, he says.

advertisement

“It doesn’t happen overnight; we have to work on it,” he says. “Our brain is teachable. We can train ourselves to be calmer and to find the peace.”

advertisement
advertisement