7 Healthy Ways To Deal With A Passive Aggressive Colleague

 

It’s one thing to deal with an outrightly hostile co-worker. When you’ve got a persistently passive-aggressive colleague, though, it can be much more toxic.

For one thing, since passive-aggressiveness is usually more subtle, it tends to have you doubting yourself. Are you just being oversensitive, or was that comment just plain underhanded?

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What’s more, passive-aggressive people tend not to confront you directly with their negativity. Not only does this make their behaviour seem uncalled for; it also tends to catch you completely off guard. You’re left reeling and blindly guessing about whether you said or did something wrong that you weren’t aware of.

Left unchecked, such situations could devolve into toxic working environments and exacerbate existing office politics. Condoning passive-aggressive behaviour will also eventually emotionally exhaust you.

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If you find yourself getting increasingly incensed with a passive-aggressive colleague, don’t sweep it under the rug; try one of these seven healthy ways to deal with them.

P.S. Hone your interpersonal skills and learn how to deal effectively with any workplace conflict; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on communicating and relating effectively at the workplace today!

 

1. Take ownership for your reactions

Since it’s clear that your colleague is the instigator here, it can be easy to slip into a victim’s mindset and focus too much on the unfairness of it all.

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Doing this will only worsen your mental and emotional well-being in the long run. When you internalise your victimhood, you amplify the negativity sowed by your colleague’s passive-aggressive behaviour.

Instead, take charge of yourself and recognise that while you can’t control their behaviour, your reaction to it is entirely up to you. Without acknowledging this and acting accordingly, it’ll be hard to take any further steps to rectify the situation.

 

2. Stay on top of your emotions

One of the critical aspects of emotional intelligence is the ability to regulate your emotions instead of allowing them to rule over you.

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This is even more important when you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive colleague. Since it can get under your skin, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reactionary behaviour. Remember, though, that decisions and words made when you’re angry are almost always irrational.

More importantly, if you retaliate by trying to give them a taste of their own medicine, you’re only justifying their treatment of you and making it worse for yourself in the long run.

 

3. Don’t take it personally

It may be hard to do this, but do your best not to take your colleague’s passive-aggressiveness personally. Even if it feels like they’re aiming specifically for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have something against you.

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Passive-aggressiveness has many roots. For example, some people might communicate that way because that’s how they were brought up.

When you stop identifying yourself with their negative treatment of you, you can take your ego out of the equation to look at the situation more objectively and decide on which course of action to take next.

 

4. Don’t fuel the flames

Besides ensuring you don’t resort to tit for tat measures, you also need to be smart about your work interactions with them. Don’t give them ammunition to use against you.

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For instance, if they keep backpedaling on work agreements that they initially concurred with, keep a personal and team record of task delegations, discussions, and follow-up actions to counter them.

 

5. Try to empathise

With passive-aggressive colleagues, it can be hard to try and empathise with someone whose behaviour is so toxic. Paradoxically, this is also why it’s even more crucial to try to understand their perspective.

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While there’s no guarantee that doing this will allow you to put a stop to their negativity, it can at least help you develop a more precise strategy in dealing with the issue.

Someone whose passive-aggressiveness arises from a more deep-seated desire to avoid conflict at all costs will require a different approach than someone for whom passive-aggressiveness is a temporary defence mechanism for dealing with a life circumstance that makes them feel helpless.

 

6. Be honest

Once you’ve taken the time to get to the root of the issue, consider being forward with your colleague about their behaviour. Make sure you’re level-headed and able to use reason before you go ahead with this. Additionally, the way you communicate your dissatisfaction with a passive-aggressive colleague is crucial.

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Do not:

  • Make a personal attack
  • Tell them they’re passive-aggressive
  • Play the blame game

Do:

  • Refer to specific instances of negative behaviour instead of general, judgmental criticisms
  • Communicate the impact of their actions on you and the rest of the team

 

7. Ask for help if you need to

If your efforts at reaching out to a passive-aggressive colleague aren’t working, don’t be afraid to ask for help in dealing with the matter from your bosses or HR. Getting social support is an essential element of dealing with and rising above negativity in any situation.

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