How to deal with passive-aggressive people

Written by craig woodman
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Passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace is frustrating to managers who are trying to lead people exhibiting these tendencies. A passive-aggressive person may not get along with co-workers well, and can quickly break up a team atmosphere. What is worse is that passive-aggressive behaviour can have a significant effect on the company's bottom line, decreasing efficiency and production. A manager must lead all personality types, and not just the ones that he works well with, so taking steps to learn how to manage passive-aggressive people and their behaviours can pay dividends with a better workplace.

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    Recognise passive-aggressive behaviour in employees and other associates. Passive-aggressive people tend to place blame on others, feeling cheated or under-appreciated. They may be prone to procrastinate, and may miss critical deadlines. Passive aggressives may seem irritable, and will often "forget" critical details or conversations as a way of showing their disagreement. They may favour using notes and e-mail to communicate, rather than confronting someone with face-to-face communication.

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    Coach an employee through the behaviours that result from his passive-aggressive nature. If an employee is consistently missing deadlines, the supervisor should explain to the employee that she expects the employee to deliver projects within the expected time frame, or communicate clearly as to why this is not possible. Concentrate on coaching specific behaviours at work, and not personality traits. Set clear expectations, and follow through with penalties for not meeting them.

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    Show genuine appreciation for what the employee contributes. Call attention to the employee's unique skills and the positive value they bring to the company. Since passive-aggressive people tend to feel under-appreciated, a manager may need to exaggerate the show of appreciation.

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    Confront the employee if you are not able to coach through the behaviours. Although passive aggressiveness is not a mental illness, it is a characteristic of many different mental illnesses and disorders. The employee may want to deliver good performance, but emotional factors may be preventing this. Encourage the employee to seek therapy for the behaviours. A good therapist should be able to identify underlying causes, and help the patient improve his actions. Point out any company health benefits that are available to assist with treatment.

Tips and warnings

  • Enlist the help of the employee's co-workers in dealing with the passive-aggressive behaviour. The behaviour is probably as frustrating to them, and they may be willing to help make the situation better.
  • Avoid autocratic leadership styles with passive-aggressive people. While a manager may feel that he is strongly dealing with the behaviours, most passive-aggressive peoples' behaviour grows worse with this type of leadership.

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