Some people know how to push our buttons. When they do, and there’s an element of truth to it, we get a little testy. We want them to know that we’re angry, but we also know it’s best to avoid full-on conflict. Being passive-aggressive can seem like the perfect solution.
We get to subtly punish someone — enough that they notice, but not so much that they can call us on it. Its many forms – ignoring, eye-rolling, nit-picking – make it endlessly flexible.
Sometimes the goal is to poke someone until they initiate a confrontation, at which point we can either let loose on them, or get smug with the moral high ground.
Whatever the end goal, we may take more satisfaction from it than we care to admit.
I’ve annoyed enough people in meetings that I’ve been on the receiving end of this. I provoked Bob enough that he shut down, then followed the meeting with an over-the-top nasty email. He was so wrong, and this ridiculous behavior gave me a feeling of smug self-satisfaction. But, Bob and I could never work together effectively again.
Contrast that with the story of Sarah, who once simply said a version of, “Why are you saying that? It bothers me.” She was direct about her feelings, instead of being passive-aggressive, and that led to understanding.
What to do?
Ask yourself, “What am I afraid will happen if I am direct?”
And, push other team members to be honest about their feelings and opinions when you see passive-aggressiveness start to creep in.
This is the 13th post in an 18-part series discussing what not to do during conflict situations. Effective leaders avoid portraying these 18 behaviors during conflict and address them in others. Follow along as we explore the negative impact of these behaviors, and what to do instead.
Post 1: Leaders Address Arguing During Conflict
Post 2: Leaders Address Belittling During Conflict
Post 3: Leaders Address Caving In During Conflict
Post 4: Leaders Address Being Defensive During Conflict
Post 5: Leaders Address Dismissing Others’ Opinions During Conflict
Post 6: Leaders Address Drama During Conflict
Post 7: Leaders Address Exaggerating During Conflict
Post 8: Leaders Address Exclusion During Conflict
Post 9: Leaders Address Finger-Pointing During Conflict
Post 10: Leaders Address Gossiping During Conflict
Post 11: Leaders Address Hyper-Criticism During Conflict
Post 12: Leaders Address Overpowering During Conflict