Exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior is like committing the perfect crime: You get the job done… and you get away with it.That’s why it can be rather infuriating, bringing out the worst even in a tolerant and patient person. It seems that there’s no way of reprimanding a person with passive aggression because there’s no way to prove they have committed the crime!
However, as is the case with all difficult situations, there is always a way to manage. It all starts with understanding what is going on.
Passive Aggression, Explained
Some people hate to lose, even if it’s just in petty arguments. They use strong language to discourage others from asserting themselves. To them, it’s no longer a matter of discovering the truth. It simply becomes a matter of winning.
As difficult as it is to deal with an aggressive person, it may be even more difficult to deal with a person who uses passivity as a means of aggression.With outwardly aggressive people, you at least know where they stand.For people with passive-aggressive behavior, however, you think they’re trying to hurt you – in fact, you’re almost sure. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing.
The good news is, understanding passive-aggressive behavior can help you manage more productively if and when you become a victim. Here are a few things to get you started on the road to enlightenment:
- Passive aggression results from fear of confrontation - People with passive-aggressive traits behave like so because they don’t know how to address conflicts head-on.To them, getting in an argument they might lose is a waste of time. To them, it is much more satisfying to infuriate your enemy without ever getting caught doing it.
- A person exhibiting passive aggression is deliberately trying to be hostile towards you - Don’t try to justify your passive-aggressive friend’s behaviorwhen he sets his sights on you.
In a workbook meant to teach people how to deal with difficult behavior, conflict resolution consultant Dr.Louellen Essex has a term for passive-aggressive people: snipers. It’s a fitting metaphor – after all, they choose their target, take the shot, and unless spotted and confronted, escape unseen.
Face the fact that your friend’s sarcastic jabs – hisdeliberate silence after you announce an achievement at work – arebullets directed towards you.Don’t be fooled by its sugar-coated, vague nature, advised Scott Wetzler, author of Living with Passive-Aggressive Man and vice chairman of Montefiore Medical Centers’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Recognize it for what it is – hostility – and make a conscious choice to deal with it.
- Your behavior may be reinforcing a person’s passive aggression - What did you do the last time somebody exhibited passive-aggressiveness towards you? Did you shrink away, sulking in silence? Or perhaps you’re the confrontational type?
You may be the kind of victim a passive-aggressive person is looking for if you belong to either extreme. If you refuse to call out the misdemeanor, you become a willing receptacle for the veiled hostility that’s coming your way.Next time, don’t be afraid to confront such a person. Be specific, pointing out exactly what behavior you noticed. Say it’s something you won’t tolerate and stand your ground.
- Aggression is best met with the assertion - Try as you might, you can’t fight fire with fire.Your goal should be to put a stop to the hostility, not to “win”. If you’re angry, don’t let your emotions overpower you.
One way to get a person to admit the deliberateness of his actions is to put yourself in his shoes.Acknowledging his point of view may help a passive-aggressive person to cooperate.
- Passive-aggressive attacks come in many shapes - Posting a quote on Facebook that’s meant to bother you is not the only way someone can attack you indirectly. These acts of hostility come in many forms, as discussed by Signe Whitson, co-author of the second edition of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces.
How not to be passive-aggressive
What if you’re the one who happens to be secretly hostile towards others? Here’s how you can put a stop to the maladaptive impulse.
- Be honest to yourself - Are you denying your own anger? Are you trying to convince yourself that everything is fine? Acknowledging your own emotions helps you develop a more direct way of dealing with them.
- Realize that passive aggression hurts you more than anyone else - People don’t like mingling with people who are hostile. It can hurt your career and your personal relationships.
- Conquer your fear of conflicts - Learn to assert yourself and dealing with conflicts directly instead of resorting to underhanded ways of getting back at people you don’t like.
Learn to embrace the initial discomfort – it’s going to be worth it.