Passive aggressive behaviour can be difficult to recognise at first. It is recognisable by the disconnect between what the person says and what they do. Passive aggressive people tend to express their negative feelings in an indirect manner, rather than state their disapproval directly to the person concerned. There tends to be a great deal of hostility associated with passive aggressive behaviour and a great deal of this tends to be derived from miscommunication, failure to communicate or the assumption that the other person knows what they are thinking or feeling. From a relationship perspective, passive aggressive behaviour can be the most difficult communication style to deal with as you are not quite sure what you are dealing with.
8 Examples of passive aggressive behaviour
There are many different ways in which passive aggressive behaviour can be expressed. The following list, though not exhaustive, covers some of the most common examples.
1. Resenting the demands of others
When others make requests or demands of them, passive aggressive people will often view them as unfair or unjust. Rather than express their feelings, they will bottle them up and resent the other person for making the demands. They quickly forget that they did not have to agree to the demand, or that they could have voiced their feelings at the time that the request was made.
2. Deliberate procrastination
Procrastination, the act of putting off that which needs to be done, is often a subconscious decision. With passive aggressive people, however, it is often a conscious decision. Rather than tell the other person that they cannot agree to their request, the passive aggressive person will delay completing the request until the very last moment, or later. This is aimed at punishing the other person for having the audacity to make the request.
3. Intentional mistakes
Again, rather than say ‘No’, passive aggressive people sometimes find it easier to deliberately perform poorly at a task. The hope is that they will not be asked again due to the substandard work.
4. Hostile attitude
As they often assume that others know how they feel, passive aggressive people tend to immediately assume that anything they do not approve of was an intended to be a jibe at them. For example, they may assume that their boss knows that they have a full workload. When he boss makes a request of them, they assume that the has something against them and wants to put excessive pressure on them. It never crosses their mind that they could point out to their boss that they have a full schedule and he would then ask somebody else to help.
5. Complaints of injustice and lack of appreciation
Everything is viewed as an attack on them. When something doesn’t go their way, it is seen as unfair or an injustice. It’s all about how the world impacts on them.
6. Disguising criticism with compliments
At first, passive aggressive people may seem pleasant and warm. They often appear to be complimentary. It is only after they have left that you realise that the compliment was actually disguising a cheap jibe.
7. The last punch
Passive aggressive people love to throw the last punch. So much so, that even when an argument has been reconciled, they slip one last insulting remark into the conversation. This remark is often more subtle than the ones which went before but it is still an insulting remark which allows them to feel victorious.
8. The silent treatment
As stated at the start, passive aggressive behaviour is recognisable by the disconnect between what is being said and what is being done. Nothing highlights this more than the famous silent treatment. Silence generally signifies agreement but not in this case. When you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you realise that the other person is far from agreeable. They have a big problem with you and just to allow themselves the Pyrrhic victory, they have no intention of telling you what that is.
There are 2 other common versions of the silent treatment. One is to answer the question ‘What’s wrong?’ with ‘nothing’, when there certainly is something wrong. The other, which sadly I used to use myself, is to answer any question with just one word. This is intended to signal that there is a problem, without you having to say it. I used to pride myself on the complexity of the questions which I could answer with just one word.
There are a number of communication styles. Many times we do not notice them until a dispute arises. It is then that we really see the style which people are most comfortable with. In many ways, passive aggressive behaviour can be the most difficult to deal with as it is not always immediately recognisable. Also, the passive aggressive person can be quite child like (I say this as someone who used this style) and demonstrate an unwillingness to resolve any dispute. It is important to the passive aggressive person that they have the upper hand and they will use some ridiculous tactics to achieve this. The 8 signs of passive aggressive behaviour, listed above, will help you see where you or somebody you know is behaving in a passive aggressive manner. This will allow you to adapt your approach in an attempt to resolve the issue.
I must acknowledge the assistance of my friend Dennis Miedema, of Motriz Marketing, in developing some of the content of this post.
Image credit: Chance Agrella