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Passive-Aggressive: How to deal with it

Passive-aggressive behaviour is defined as indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation. This avoidance of confrontation is where we often find the most trouble.

Passive aggressiveness is an indirect manifestation of negative emotion where someone tries to upset or hurt you, but not in a way that is instantly clear. This often means that the person can easily deny that they’re doing anything wrong.

Often people act passive-aggressively because they haven’t learned how to deal with conflict properly.

How to identify passive-aggressive behaviours

The nature of passive aggressive behaviour means that the person doing it can easily deny that they are doing it. When confronted, they may deny knowing what you are talking about or accuse you of overreacting.

Stay centred in your own perceptions.

How to identify passive aggression

Some expressions of passive-aggressive behaviours include sarcastic remarks and responses, being overly critical. Temporary compliance- where a person verbally agrees to the request but doesn’t act on it, or delays working on it. Intentional inefficiency- where a person complies with the appeal but does it poorly. Allowing a problem to heighten through lack of concern and taking pleasure in the resulting anguish. Sneaky and deliberate actions taken to get payback, complaints of unfairness, and the silent treatment. “I’m not mad” and “I was just joking” are common things that passive-aggressive people say.

More signs of passive aggression can include resentment toward demands on their time, even if its minimal, hostility toward figures of authority or those more fortunate, procrastination in dealing with other people’s requests, purposefully doing a lousy job for other people when they are supposed to be helping, acting sceptical, sullen or confrontational, and complaints about being under-appreciated.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is defined as indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation. This avoidance of confrontation is where we often find the most trouble.

When you experience what you believe to be passive-aggressive behaviour from someone for the first time, try to avoid flying to a negative assumption. Instead, come up with multiple ways to see the situation before reacting. For example, I might be tempted to think my friend didn’t text back because she’s ignoring me, or I can consider that she’s busy right now. Put yourself in their shoes, and with that perspective, what do you think a reasonable person might act similarly in those circumstances?

When we avoid personalising other people’s behaviours, we can see their expressions much more reasonably.

“People do what they do because of them more than because of us.”

Preston Ni M.S.B.A

It’s important to also bear in mind our own insecurities- are you used to people in your past giving you a hard time? Does this person make you think of that? Are you thinking this person is doing what people did before?

It’s important when we are identifying passive-aggressive behaviour that we also think about how the person makes you feel when they are acting like this. Dealing with a passive-aggressive person might make you feel annoyed, angry, and even miserable. It may seem as if there isn’t anything that you can ever say or do to please them.

You might feel hurt by being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behaviours, frustrated that the person often complains, but doesn’t take steps to improve their situation. It’s vital that you pay close attention to your instincts. Being around a person who is displaying these types of behaviours might leave you feeling tired or deflated because you’ve spent so much energy trying to deal with their behaviour.

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Responding to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Stay Positive

Try to keep positive as much as possible. Positive thinking helps in dealing with the daily rigours of life, no matter what’s going on. Passive-aggressive people will try to haul you into a black hole of endless negativity.  

Staying positive means not sinking to their level. Don’t be passive-aggressive back. If you stay positive, you’ll be in a better position to keep the focus on their actions, not yours. If you get angry, you’ll move attention away from the real problems.

Try to model positive behaviour. Whether you’re dealing with kids or adults, address your own conflicts in a way that lets others know how to interact with you. Passive aggression vents emotion from behind a façade of apathy. Instead of pretending to be indifferent, be open, honest and direct about your feelings.

Stay Calm

If you’re upset, calm down before you deal with the problem, and then work out precisely what it is you need, and what reasonable result you can live with.

Don’t over react, especially with anger. And don’t directly accuse someone of being passive aggressive, because this opens a window for them to deny everything and to blame you of “reading into it” or of being too sensitive or suspicious.

No matter what happens, try not to show your displeasure. Don’t let them see that they got a rise out of you. Showing that only reinforces the behaviour and can increase chances that it’ll happen again.

Start a conversation about the issue.

Assuming you are calm and self-respecting, the best approach is to express what seems to be happening, simply and succinctly.

“I might be wrong, but it seems that you’re upset that you weren’t invited to the movies. Do you want to talk about it?”

Be direct and specific. Your words can be twisted using technicalities if you speak too generally or vaguely. If you’re going to confront a person who is being passive-aggressive, you must be clear about the issue at hand.

A danger you may have when trying to start a conversation about the issue is that statements turn too global. “You’re always this way!”. That kind of comment won’t get you anywhere, so it’s super important to confront them about a specific action. For example, if the silent treatment is what gets on your nerves, explain that a particular occasion where you were given the silent treatment made you feel a specific way.

Try to get the person to admit that they’re upset.

Try to get the person to admitthat they’re upset in a non-confrontational manner.

“You seem to be pretty upset at the moment” or maybe “I feel like something is bugging you.”

Tell them that the way their behaviour makes you feel, for example, “When you talk in such a rude way, it makes me feel hurt and dismissed.” This way, they must acknowledge the effect that their behaviour is having on you.

Use “I” statements. When talking with someone, especially during conflict, try to use “I” statements, instead of “You” statements. Instead of saying “You’re so rude,” you could tell them that “I felt bad after you left because I felt like you didn’t want to listen to me.” The former instance is a “You” statement, which can imply blame, judgement or accusation. In contrast, I-statements let you express your emotions without pointing fingers.

When someone is being passive-aggressive, they are beating around the bush.  Don’t do the same thing back at them. Be honest and gentle, but don’t sugar-coat.

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Protecting yourself from passive aggressive behaviour

Set Limits

Although you don’t want to provoke a confrontation, you don’t need to be a passive-aggressive person’s punching bag. Passive aggression can be super damaging and a form of abuse. It’s utterly reasonable for you to set boundaries and limits.

One of the major mistakes people make is being way too tolerant. When you give in to passive-aggressive behaviour, you lose your options. You can stay confident and calm, and still be strong and firm about how much you’re willing to take.

You must follow through on the boundaries that you set. Make it clear that you won’t put up with being mistreated. If a person is always late and it bothers you, make it clear to them that next time you’re going to go without her.

This way you’re saying that you aren’t going to pay the price for their behaviour.  

Figure out the root of the problem.

The best way to deal with passive aggressive anger is to detect any changes as soon as possible. The best way of doing this is getting to the bottom of the anger.

If this person is one who doesn’t usually show anger, then talk to someone who knows them well enough to tell what angers them, and what signs that the person may give when angry.

Try to dig deep, and honestly figure out what might be driving the passive aggression. Passive aggressive behaviour is usually a symptom of another cause.

Practice assertive communication

Assertive communication means being clear and precise and nonreactive, but still being respectful. Show confidence, be willing to work and talk to them and tell them that you want to solve the issue in a way that works for both of you.  

It’s essential to listen and not accuse or blame them in the conversation. Consider the other person’s point of view and acknowledge it. Support their feelings, even if you think they’re wrong.

For more info on assertive communication, which is a vital skill for everyone, go here.

Determine when to avoid the person altogether.

If a person is passive aggressive towards you the reg, it’s perfectly reasonable to avoid that person.

“You must always put yourself first.”

Look for ways to spend a limited amount of time with them as possible and try to interact with them only when you’ re in a group situation. Avoid one-on-one time as much as you can.

If they aren’t contributing anything significant to your life, besides negative energy, ask yourself whether it’s worth keeping them around at all.

Give the person little information

Don’t tell the passive aggressive person your personal info, emotions, or thoughts.

They may ask questions that seem harmless or concerned. You can answer those questions but avoid giving details. Keep it brief, vague and pleasant

Try to avoid topics that are delicate or reveal your personal weaknesses. Passive-aggressive people tend to remember them and will find ways to use it against you later.

Tell them the consequences.

Since passive-aggressive people operate covertly, they’ll almost always put up resistance when confronted. Denial, excuse making, and blame throwing are just some of the probable replies.

Regardless of what they say, tell them what you’re willing to do going forward. Offer strong consequences to compel the person to reconsider his or her behaviour.

The ability to recognise and establish consequences is one of the most powerful skills we can use to deal with a passive-aggressive person. Effectively spoken, consequences can give pause to the person, and compel them to shiftfrom obstruction to cooperation.

Reinforce good behaviour

In behavioural psychology terms, reinforcement is something you do, or give a person after they perform a particular behaviour. The goal is to increase the rate of that behaviour.

This might mean rewarding good behaviour that you want to perpetuate or punishing bad behaviour you want to stop. Positive reinforcement is tricky because bad behaviour is more noticeable than good. You’ll need to be on the watch for good behaviour, so you can take the chance to reinforce it.

If a passive aggressive person is being candid and honest about their feelings, that’s a good thing. Reinforce this kind of behaviour by saying “Thank you for telling me howyou feel. I really appreciate it when you do that.”

Reinforcing good behaviour draws attention to it, and from there you can work to open a dialogue.

Solicit the help of a mediator

If nothing else is working, a mediator, who is an objective third party, who is someone both of you can trust may help.

Before meeting with the mediator, give them a list of your concerns. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and understand why they’re so angry. Don’t be obnoxious and all passive aggressive about them pushing you away, even if you’retrying to help.

When you confront the individual, you may hear statements like “relax, it was a joke” or “you take things too seriously”. Therefore, a third party can work better.

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