How to Deal with Passive Aggressive Behavior?


Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior can be challenging as it is difficult to understand this kind of behavior. Passive-aggressive people are difficult to understand, thus making it hard to manage people with such personalities. However, you can live peacefully around people when you learn how to deal with passive-aggressive behavior personalities gracefully. Keep reading to learn how to deal with passive-aggressive behavior.

What is Passive Aggressive Behavior?

Mayoclinic defines passive-aggressive behavior as “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.”

It means that people with passive-aggressive behavior do not show aggression actively. Instead, they express negative feelings indirectly in different ways. Such people may also seem pleasant and neutral, apparently. Yet, they show their resentment and aggression in other ways when the opportunity arrives. For example, a coworker might not say that they do not want to do a particular task but act grumpy when doing it. Such people are the same in their personal life.

Let’s tell you Monica A. Frank’s 7 rules for tackling such people to keep your sanity intact.

Dealing With Passive Aggressive Behavior

Identifying the Behavior

The first step in dealing with passive-aggressive people is identifying and understanding the behavior. Once you realize a person is being passive-aggressive by expressing anger passively, understanding the type of passive aggression can help you better.

Passive aggressive people typically exhibit any of the following three kinds of passive aggression:

Unintentional: Unintentional passive-aggressive behavior refers to a person acting passive-aggressive without deliberate intention. Dealing with unintentional passive aggression is comparatively simple, as these people do not adopt this behavior intentionally. When you tell them about their behavior, they are willing to change it. Thus, it can be easier to deal with unintentionally passive-aggressive people.

Self-Protective: The self-protective passive aggression may not be as easy to manage as unintentional. These people know they are passive-aggressive, but they do so to protect themselves or their job. However, they do not mean harm to others, thus interested in changing their behavior.

Malicious: The third type is the least complicated but the most harmful type of passive-aggressive people. They adopt this behavior to not appear as bad people despite hurting others around them. Your response to maliciously passive-aggressive people can damage your reputation as they might turn the situation in their favor. It is best to avoid these people instead of trying to fix their behavior. You may talk to HR about their behavior if you work with such a person.

Control your Behavior

One of the most common mistakes people make when dealing with passive-aggressive people is overreacting to the situation. You may feel hurt, but overreacting to the problem will not be in your best interest. Thus, it is important to ensure you do not become aggressive. Your aggression will be more visible than their passive aggression and may worsen the situation for you. It is also important to understand your expectations and demands to realize if you are overreacting. Sometimes we demand so much from a person that they become passive-aggressive.

Regarding the example discussed above, your coworker might have said no to you. But you push them to do a particular task, and they seem upset and grumpy when doing it. Here, you have too many expectations from them, which makes them feel suffocated. Thus, it is important to understand when you are being too demanding and control your behavior.

Decide your Goal

You can only act adequately in front of a passive-aggressive person when you know what outcome you want through your reaction. While the root goal is to avoid harm to yourself, there can be multiple ways to approach that goal. For example, you might not want to appear bad in front of others because of a passive-aggressive person. At the same time, you may want to avoid the perception of being irresponsible. You can opt for a less-defensive strategy when you know your end goal. Just thinking that you want them to stop acting like this or stay safe from them is not enough. Think of a realistic and specific goal. It could be changing their behavior, avoiding coming out as a bad person, or feeling more in control around them.

Always Remain Calm

The third rule of dealing with passive-aggressive people is to always stay calm. Besides unintentionally, passive-aggressive people, others know they cause distress and harm to you. And it would not be wrong to say that it is their goal. Despite causing you harm, your reaction to a passive-aggressive person will make them the victim. So, if you have passive-aggressive people around you, it is best to stay calm. Practice calming exercises and ignore such people as much as you can. Eventually, they distance themselves from you when you do not take note of their actions.

With Hold their Rewards

You might not know, but passive-aggressive people continue this behavior because they find it rewarding. They can get their work done almost every time through passive-aggressive tactics. Thus, they continue to do it in order to receive their rewards.

It will take some time and experience to find out what reward they get from this behavior. Observe them and see what makes them happy. They might feel more powerful or get their tasks done easily through this behavior. They may be able to direct their anger and stress onto you through passive-aggression.

There could be various types of rewards for their behavior. Analyze and find out what rewards they achieve and try to hinder them. For example, do not give in to their pleading when they ask you to do something. It will tell them that passive-aggressive behavior will no longer benefit them.


Pick your Words Wisely

When you have decided on your goal, it might require you to communicate with the passive-aggressive person. Choosing your words wisely when talking to such people is even more important. Anything you say may backfire. You can practice it through role-playing with a friend or in front of the mirror. Structuring your sentences in your mind before speaking also helps. You can use the “One-down” or “Did I understand you” method when communicating with passive-aggressive people.

The One-down approach requires you to step down and offer an apparent advantage to the other person. It allows you to confront the person indirectly, almost eliminating the space for disagreement. Thus, when sitting with people, you may start your sentence with “Maybe I am wrong” or “Let me know if I’m thinking otherwise.” They might not be able to get away with “No, I’m not angry.”

The other method is called the “Did I understand” approach. In this method, you can repeat what the other person said, followed by a question. Like, “Hey, did you say that I am overweight? I must have misheard; why would you say something like that!” It makes their intention clear to others even if they sugarcoat it.

Be Assertive

The last rule for dealing with passive-aggressive behavior is to be assertive. Any passive-aggressive or manipulative person tries their best to trap you. Thus, it is important to be assertive when deciding on your goal and strategy. You must not sound aggressive but rather assertive in your stance.

You can make use of these following tips when in a conversation with a passive-aggressive person.

Be Direct: Do not talk about random topics around them, so they do not have anything to use against you. Often they may use your words against you by twisting the meaning. Talk to them directly and stay to the point. And it is even better to talk to them face to face, so they do not have time to cook something up.Manage your Tone: Make sure to have a firm but not angry tone. Your way of talking must not show that you are annoyed or frustrated with them. They might pick your tone and use it to present themselves as a better person. Be firm and sincere in your tone to let them know that you are not being aggressive or sarcastic.

Neutral Face Expressions: Sometimes, we may not depict aggression through words or tone; our facial expressions give away what we feel. So, you should keep a neutral face and stay calm when talking to passive-aggressive people. They might pinpoint your facial expressions and accuse you of being aggressive to them. It allows them to adopt a defensive approach instead of taking responsibility for their actions.

Eye Contact: Eye contact is an important part of active listening. It shows people around you that you are listening to them with interest. You must maintain friendly eye contact with them time-to-time to not offend them. Smiling while maintaining eye contact will present you as a friendly, open person who does not want problems. It will help you have a better reputation in front of others despite their efforts to bring you down.

Body Language: You must not ignore another critical factor: an open stance or welcoming body language. You should neither seem offensive nor defensive to the other person. Maintain a calm, open posture; avoid crossing your arms and legs, and look relaxed. It depicts that you are open to communication and willing to listen to their perspective.

The Bottom Line

Passive-aggressive behavior is difficult to manage as passive-aggressive people do not exhibit aggression directly. Such people have the tendency to use your words and reactions against you and harm your reputation in the workplace or family. Initially, you must identify if they have unintentional, defensive, or malicious passive aggression. Furthermore, always remain calm and maintain composure to not say anything that may backfire. Maintain soft eye contact, neutral body language, and a firm tone. Always pick your words wisely and be assertive when dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

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