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How To Deal With A Passive Aggressive Co-Worker

December 14, 2017

Each week, we spend up to 40 hours at work, which means we sometimes see our colleagues more than we see our own families. As such, it can be quite frustrating if you have to deal with a passive aggressive colleague on a daily basis. Short of heading straight to your HR manager, here are a few dos and don’ts you can deal with this behavior, and create a healthier work environment.

DO …

Understand why it happens.

To some extent, we all display passive aggressive behaviour – some more obviously and more often than others, but any form of passive aggressive behavior can make for an unpleasant work environment.

Passive aggressive behaviour stems from having emotions that one is unable to share constructively. A person who is passive aggressive is usually confrontation-averse and is unlikely to speak directly to the person whom they are unhappy with. Instead, this unhappiness surfaces through other actions such as failing to do what they said they would, missing deadlines, and even backhanded compliments or loaded comments.

However, below all that nasty behaviour is a need that isn’t being met. Perhaps your colleague does not feel valued as a member of the team, or perhaps they feel that someone else is over-stepping their boundaries. If you can understand the reason for their behaviour, it might be easier to tackle the problem at its root.

Focus on what they’re trying to say, not how they said it.

With the knowledge that a passive aggressive person has problems communicating directly, try to focus on the intention behind their words instead of the actual content. By focusing on their underlying concerns, you’ll be able to find a solution to move forward, and maybe even address the behavior so it happens less frequently.

Check with other colleagues if they’re experiencing the same thing.

Try talking to some trusted colleagues, to make sure this passive aggressive behavior isn’t just directed at you.

One thing to remember is this discussion is a way for you to constructively improve the working relationship – you’re not trying to simply bad-mouth your colleague.

DON’T …

Assume the problem is solely with the other person.

There’s a possibility that maybe, just maybe you could be fuelling the behavior with your own passive aggressiveness. When trying to deal with a colleague who you feel is displaying such antics, you also need to be honest if you are also displaying similar passive aggressive behaviour.

This will require some self-reflection – when confronted with a problem at work, what is your first instinct? Is it to put on a cheerful face only to complain about it to a close colleague or friend? Are you able to speak directly to co-workers when issues crop up on a project?

Fight back with more passive aggressiveness.

When dealing with a passive aggressive co-worker, the best way to respond is by being rational and levelheaded. One of the best ways to counter passive aggressiveness is by demonstrating how their behaviour is working against the team’s goals.

A passive aggressive person already has problems trying to confront issues, and acting in a similar way will just exacerbate the situation – it’ll become a never ending passive aggressive war that affects the entire team.

Get too caught up in the drama.

Sometime, there are people who want to rile you up just to get a reaction – and then turn around and blame you for being the one who’s too emotional and sensitive. In order to deal with someone like that, don’t respond emotionally – this goes back to trying to understand the message that they’re putting across, and just responding with rationality.

An important thing to know when dealing with passive aggressive behaviour is that it’s not your responsibility to change a person and it’s always important to put yourself first. If you feel your work environment is getting increasingly toxic, find ways to practise self-care outside of work such as through exercise or confiding in friends. This helps lend perspective to your situation and serves as a reminder that there is so much more to life than workplace drama.