As a coach, I’ve dealt with clients who have experienced all sorts of challenges.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is one of them.
It’s when someone deals with anger or frustration by, for example:
- Saying they’re ok when they are not
- Giving the silent treatment
- Agreeing to do something and then not following through
- Responding with sarcasm
When a client wants this dynamic to shift, here is what is important.
Find the problem under the problem.
Let’s define what exactly passive-aggressive behaviour is and why people demonstrate it.
Then, we’ll see how and why this phrase is so effective at shifting the perspective of the client.
Passive aggression is the display of perceived negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive or “passive” manner.
It often involves subtle and covert actions that may not be immediately recognizable as hostile.
- Some characteristics of passive aggression:
Indirect Communication: Passive-aggressive individuals may avoid direct communication of their feelings or needs, making it challenging for others to understand their true emotions. This is shown when someone repeatedly states that they’re fine, even when it’s obvious that they’re not. Or, they completely shut down communication and refuse to discuss what is going on in their mind.
- Procrastination: Deliberate delays and procrastination can be a way for passive-aggressive individuals to express resistance or opposition.
Sarcasm and Veiled Criticism: Passive aggression often involves the use of sarcasm or veiled criticism, making it difficult for others to pinpoint the issue.
- Passive aggression can stem from various sources, including childhood experiences, interpersonal conflicts, or a fear of expressing one’s needs directly.
Further, since the underlying situation never gets resolved, it continues to be a problem and often comes back up repeatedly.
But if it is eroding relationships, why do people do it?
It is because people who are demonstrating passive aggressive behaviour are conflict-avoidant.
Instead of addressing conflicts directly and head-on, they tend to express their negative feelings or opposition in more indirect ways. This behaviour stems from a reluctance to openly confront or engage in conflicts, possibly due to fear of rejection, criticism, or feeling emotions they perceive to be uncomfortable.
So when you have a client dealing with passive aggressiveness.
Asking – how does them demonstrating passive aggressiveness serve only shifts the surface dynamic.
Let’s get back to finding the problem under the problem.
- Not expressing themselves
- Avoiding communication
- Avoiding conflict
- Avoid responsibility
- Power imbalance (passive aggressive increases power within them)
- Fear of rejection/not being liked
- Not responding in a timely manner in arguments
These are some of the problems under the problem for the person being passive aggressive.
But for the client, you want to be thinking about
- Their communication style
- Giving mixed messages
- Information being withheld
- Competitive communication
- Inconsistent communication
So for the client, the experience of passive aggressive can be an opportunity for them to step up!
Active communication is one skill that people can learn that’ll help with disarming people and shifting communication dynamics.
Here are some examples of active communication:
- “I feel overwhelmed when there’s too much on my plate.”
- “It’s important for me to have some alone time. I value my personal space.”
- “I’d appreciate it if you could be more mindful of your tone when speaking to me.”
- “I don’t like feeling pressured to do this.”
- “I find it challenging to concentrate in a noisy environment. Can we keep it quieter?”
- “I need more notice. It’s important for me to plan things like this.”
- “I value punctuality. It’s frustrating for me when meetings start late.”
- “I need acknowledgment for my contributions. It’s important for my motivation.”
- “Can you please ask me before making this type of decision?”
- “I’m uncomfortable with gossip. Let’s focus on positive and constructive conversations.”
- “I prefer to receive feedback privately rather than in a group setting.”
- “I don’t like it when assumptions are made about my intentions. Let’s clarify things.”
- “I need time to decompress after a long day. Can we discuss important matters later in the evening?
‘I’ statements are not ‘you’ statements. You statements are accusatory and blaming and of course, people will not manage those conversations well. I statements help you to communicate how you feel, from your perspective.
When you clearly communicate your own feelings and expectations while also telling the other person that you don’t know what’s wrong and that you’d like them to express how they’re thinking or feeling.
As a coach, it is not just mindset that can help your client, it is also communication skill sets that can help your clients to navigate passive aggressiveness.
Love to know if you found this helpful? Insightful? Do you want more of these styles of emails? Or not? Love to know your thoughts?
With love and sprinkles of wisdom,
Tanya “not so cross” Cross
Leadership Coach & Master Certified Demartini Method Facilitator