Handling passive-aggression in the workplace

Those who exhibit passive-aggressive behavior tend to express hostile and antagonistic feelings in non-aggressive ways.

The passive-aggressive employee subtly exhibits behaviors that appear on the surface to be passive, but in reality are directed and purposeful, and intended to control, injure or assign negative third-party perception, while avoiding real responsibility.

These behaviors present unprovoked, offensive action toward another person in the workplace. Most often, this type of behavior is exhibited from an employee and directed toward his boss. Other times, it may be one employee acting in a passive-aggressive manner toward a co-worker or even a particular group or department.

In any case, passive-aggressive behavior can cause problems in the workplace on both a personal and organizational level. For this reason is is essential that this behaviour is recognised and dealt with in as effective way as possible.

The worst case of passive-aggressive behavior involves destructive attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, “forgetting” to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency.

When it involves promising to do tasks others rely on — purposefully not getting them done and offering lame excuses later then portray their behavior as non intentional – it’s exasperating for the manager.  Time, energy, effort, opportunity, and sometime money is lost.

In cases where some work is actually done, it may be delivered too late to be useful (e.g.,“You needed this for the meeting at nine? I thought you said for the meeting at noon!”), may be performed in a way that makes it useless (e.g., “You wanted the stats for 2011? I thought you said the stats for 2007!”), or it may be sabotaged in any number of other ways.

For instance new ideas, approaches – “It will never work”.

This creates a paranoid team or workgroup environment — workers need to be always on the look out for “backstabbing behavior,” so they can defend themselves and preserve the quality of their own work.

Because of the covert nature of this behaviour and it’s camouflage, it is sometimes very difficult to address as it is a consistance pattern of very small behaviours, which, taken in isolation, seem to be innocuous. However, taken as a whole, the behaviour is extremely damaging, to performance, the team and individuals.

It is encumbant on the leader of the team to act. Passive aggressive behaviour can, and often does, destroy teams and poison the workplace.

Some suggestions are shown below

  1. Tackle the issue in private with the individual.
  2. Respond assertively, and following your own perceptions.
  3. Communicate your confusion about the mixed messages you are receiving.
  4. Do not listen to the excuses or the apparent innocence or feelings of hurt that the person may express. Look for the underlying reasons.
  5. Ask questions about the true intent behind their behaviour.These may be work related, or may actually be due to circumstance outside work.
  6. Hold them accountable for results, not promises.
  7. Stay loose and relaxed and objective,
  8. Show that you are strong and aware of his/her meaning
  9. Gain acceptance of the fact that there is a problem.
  10. Agree a resolution – act and follow up

The above suggestions may or may not work, however, it is vitally important, both to your team’s performance and your own personal leadership effectiveness, that the matter is dealt with.

Passive – aggressive behaviour is like a cancer. If diagnosed early enough, it may respond to treatment. However, if left too late, then radical surgery may be the only option if survival of team performance is to be maintained.

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2 Responses to Handling passive-aggression in the workplace

  1. Pingback: Stop the Nonsense | Spread Information

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