Beverly Smallwood

Article Summary:

How to deal with sarcasm, back-biting, feet dragging and other passive-aggressive behavior.

Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behavior

Dealing with a person who is behaving passively-aggressive presents one of the greatest challenges in an effective relationship. Passive-aggressiveness involves "acting out" frustration and aggression rather than dealing with the situation head on. This acting out can take such forms as sarcasm, back-biting, feet dragging, and even gossip.

Some individuals who choose this form of anger expression are reacting to a specific resentment about something they feel you have done. However, some individuals are bitter, holding on to underlying anger that habitually gets expressed through these negative means.

Are you currently challenged with dealing with passive-aggressive behavior in a co-worker or a boss? If so, here are If you find yourself in a situation with a person like this, there are five tips for increasing direct and constructive communication with such an individual.


1. Do not allow yourself to get into a power struggle with this individual! You won't win!.


2. "Don't let'em see you sweat."
Do not allow the passive aggressive behavior to get under your skin. When this behavior manages to get a visible rise out of you, the behavior has been rewarded and reinforced. In other words, if it "works" to upset you, it is more likely to happen again. Whenever possible, ignore it.


3. Describe the behavior and its practical impact.
Deal with the irritating behavior as "behavior with a practical impact". Avoid the temptation to assign malevolent motives (e.g. "I think you're trying to get me upset!") Instead, describe the behavior, then talk about how it creates a problem. For instance, you might say, "When we are discussing something and you make a sarcastic remark, it shuts down the communication and I'm not able to tell what you're really wanting to know. It would be helpful to me if you would directly talk about what you're thinking and feeling. That way, I can respond and perhaps we can even make things better."


4. Ask this person for improvement ideas.
Actively solicit the person's ideas on how to make the situation to share better. Sometimes when these are brought into the open, they eliminate the need for more indirect means of communication.


5. If (when) the person denies the problem, gently point out inconsistencies in what the person is saying and what they are doing. You might do it something like this: "Jim, you say that you're not upset about this, yet every time the subject comes up your face turns red and your voice tone changes. Help me understand what happens with that."

Beverly Smallwood is a licensed psychologist who has worked with Fortune 500, healthcare, and other organizations around the world for over 20 years. Her specialties are leadership development, employee retention, and personal resilience. She's often featured in such national media as MSNBC, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, FOX, and New York Times. To contact her about speaking, consulting, or coaching, call 877-CAN LEAD (226-5323) or visit her website Magnetic Places, where you can also sign up for her free email newsletter.

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