Passive-Aggressive Relationships

"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist."
Indira Gandhi

Passive-Aggressive Relationships

Most of us understand that dealing with a passive-aggressive person's behaviour is often both confusing and highly frustrating. What might not be as clearly appreciated is that this sydrome also creates endless problems and disappointmnts for the individual exhibiting the behavior. The personal passive-aggressive person's relationships are often chaotic, and regardless of their level of intelligence, their career development track record is usually somewhat less than stellar.
Passive-aggressive people are able to trap others in situations where they feel that whatever they do is wrong. They tend to be negative and highly critical, often denying responsibility and blaming others for their difficulties. When you are the person blamed, the resulting pattern of self-questioning can be crazy-making, to say the least. How best to cope with this conduct is the focus of this newsletter.

A passive-aggressive coworker can erode and undermine everyone's morale and productivity (interpersonal, familial relationshps tend also to be stormy and destructive). Those involved with the passive-aggressive personality are constantly on edge as they anticipate the next volatile struggle even as they strive to to understand behavior
that alternates between hostile defiance and asking forgiveness and promising improved performance, another part of the crazy-making condundrum.

Career-related passive-aggressive individuals can be identified by the following list of typical behaviours:

-complaining incessantly
-resisting demands for improved performance
-generating chaos
-being intentionally inefficient
-making excuses and lying
-constantly criticizing others
-avoiding responsibility (by claiming forgetfulness, for example)
-exhibiting sullen, argumentative behaviour
-blaming others
-being chronically late
-hiding feelings of hostility and anger, whether justified or not

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a distinctly ineffective way to deal with stress or frustration, and one that impacts almost all interpersonal or occupational situations negatively. The passive-aggressive person may experience several of the following emotions simultaneously.

-fearing competition, dependency, intimacy, and/or authority
-feeling themselves to be misunderstood and/or unappreciated
-feeling ambivalent about relationships

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a deeply ingrained, unconscious personality trait that may well have taken years to develop. It's important to remember that nothing you do will effectively alter that type of behaviour. What you can do is deal very directly with the individual and refuse to engage in deleterious mind games. An angry response is a reliable indicator that you have been drawn into this destructive cycle.

Here are a few tips designed to help you first identify and then live or work with a passive-aggressive person:

1.Clarify the specific behaviors that make you uncomfortable by observing the person carefully. Be clear about what bothers you, so you know what you are up against and can plan effective strategies to deal with them.

2.Define expectations and behaviours. There are defined roles within every relationship.Each role has a set of expectations - our own and those of the other person. Roles and expectations need to be clearly defined, agreed upon, and accepted by both parties.

3. Model assertive communication. The passive-aggressive person is an ineffective communicator. In response, you should always use an assertive relational style - for example, when working on a project with them, be sure to record the required tasks and then draw up a written, formal agreement that everyone involved will sign.
Also remember that the passive aggressive person's resistance is passive. It's up to you to model appropriate communication and air issues fully and respectfully as they arise.

4. Do not confront directly without witnesses present. The passive-aggressive person will deny, lie, cover up, and make excuses. Speaking in the presence of witnesses lessens their opportunity to operate in their preferred manner. It also gives you credibility with those in authority. Whenever the opportunity exists, provide positive feedback and reinforce the passive-aggressive person's accomplishments in order
to counter their low self-esteem as much as possible.

5. Limit your exposure. It may become necessary to avoid the person in order to protect and take care of yourself. If/when you feel that is necessary, learn to let go and simply do the best you can.

6. If the passive-aggressive person is your boss, change jobs! A passive-aggressive supervisor may sabotage your efforts, not share pertinent information, withhold resources needed to do your job, and/or conveniently "forget" things that might reflect poorly on them. The likelihood that they will change is minimal to non-existent.
You need to move on to a healthier work environment rather than struggle within a potentially toxic atmosphere.

This complex newsletter topic is lengthier than past editions, but even in this truncated forum, it is important to understand the syndrome's implications and multifaceted manifestations if we are to address it at all effectively. I hope it will help those who share their work or personal life with a passive-aggressive individual.

(Source: Materials were adapted from the U.S. Library of Medicine)

Take good care of yourself - that's your job!

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Your Career
Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Books Now Available



Overcoming Passive Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Relationships,
Career and Happiness by Tim Murphy, PhD and Loriann Hoff Oberlin. 2005. Order from
Amazon: Overcoming Passive-Aggression []

The Passive Aggressive Organization. 2005. Article by Harvard Business Review. Read
the article online:

The Passive Aggressive Organization []



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