How to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers

Remain calm and do not accuse the person of being passive-aggressive

If you can focus on the underlying business concern or question rather than the way your colleague is expressing herself, you can move on to addressing the actual problem

If you can focus on the underlying business concern or question rather than the way your colleague is expressing herself, you can move on to addressing the actual problem

 

It’s frustrating to work with someone who is acting passive-aggressively.

Do you address the behaviour directly? Or try to ignore it? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1 Don’t get caught up: When your coworker pretends nothing is going on or accuses you of over-reacting, it’s hard not to get angry and defensive. Do your best to remain calm.

2 Consider what’s motivating the behaviour: Passive-aggressive behaviour is often a way for people to share their emotions while avoiding conflict.

3 Own your part: Ask yourself if something you’re doing is contributing to the dynamic or causing the person to be passive-aggressive. Also, consider whether you’ve dished out the same behaviour.

4 Focus on the content, not the delivery: If you can focus on the underlying business concern or question rather than the way your colleague is expressing herself, you can move on to addressing the actual problem.

5 Acknowledge the underlying issue: Say something like: “You made a good point in that exchange we had the other day. Here’s what I heard you saying.” This will help them talk about the substance of their concerns.

6 Watch your language: Whatever you say, don’t accuse the person of being passive-aggressive.

7 Find safety in numbers: It’s okay to confer with others, but be sure to frame your discussions as an attempt to constructively improve the relationship, so it doesn’t come across as gossiping or bad-mouthing your colleague.

8 Set guidelines for everyone: You might also enlist the help of others in coming up with a long-term solution. Together you can agree to be more upfront about frustrations and model the honest and direct interactions you want to happen.

9 Get help in extreme situations: When a colleague persistently tries to undermine you or prevent you from doing your job and outside observers confirm your take on the situation, it may be time to speak to your manager. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016

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