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6 Ways To Manage Passive Aggressive’s At Work

Passive aggressive behavior can be very difficult to self-manage, as the person has most likely been rewarded by acting this way for a long time. (gained that simple pleasure of stopping your goals and watching you sit in extreme frustration). Expecting this behavior to go away overnight is perhaps setting you up for failure. However, if you don’t manage it, it will only escalate.

Author: Pamela Cournoyer
Date: Sep 13, 2011 - 6:14:28 AM

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Backstabbing? Sarcasm? Blaming others? Lame excuses? Dragging behind on projects? Overly sweet? A coworker guarantee she will be somewhere and never show up, without a word about it?


I think you get the picture; Passive aggressive behavior is prevalent in so many workplaces and many of us are not dealing well with it. In fact, we are furious!   It may feel like there is no way to get around this frustrating behavior and is even worse when you rely on them as a team member.


Let’s start by identifying how a passive aggressive acts.   A passive aggressive often is outwardly calm and patient, actively complies with the needs and desires of others, but in reality passively resists them. They rarely disagree with you because they are afraid of reprisal by addressing you directly. Through this process, the passive aggressive becomes negative, resentful, angry and hostile.


If the passive-aggressives in your workplace seem out of control, here are 6 ways to change a passive aggressive’s behavior at work.


  1. IDENTIFY THE BEHAVIORS FIRST : Watch the person carefully to define the behavior that is making you uncomfortable. Rather than be irritated, look beyond how you feel and investigate what happened and how it happened.   You have always noticed a pattern, not always though have you been able to put your finger on it.   Put your finger on this one, it is crucial before you continue to step 2.

  2. CALL IT OUT : Talk to your fellow worker about the behavior you have recognized and ask how you can help.

    Tell Them:
    “Your words are inconsistent with your actions.”

    “From now on, I am going to trust your actions before your words, until the two start to match up.”

    • Be clear with your expectations so all requests are as concrete as possible. It can be helpful to ask for a restatement to make sure you have been heard correctly.

    • If they have complaints or offenses with merit, acknowledge them. Restate them to make sure your understanding is clear, and ask for what the person needs to remedy the situation.

                        DOCUMENT IT : Put all of your communication in writing, even to the point of having the passive-aggressive coworker sign agreements so they can't back out later.

                        GET WITNESSES : Speak to the passive aggressive employee or coworker in front of others when using the call-out phase (#2). Also, enlist the help of your superiors if your own efforts do not work.

                        INCLUDE IN EVALUATIONS : Incorporate discussion of acceptable workplace behavior in team meetings and evaluations. Make sure company policy backs you up.

Expect specific results and clearly communicate that you do. Don't accept, excuse, or reward poor performance. This is crucial for you to model consistent behavior

                        ISSUE AN ULTIMATUM : When the passive aggressive behavior feels like it is not stopping or is getting out of control; state: “This behavior will stop or else…” encourage the person to seek outside help or be replaced.


  • Don’t expect or want anything important, fundamental, or vital from passive aggressive people until they change their behaviors on a consistent basis.
  • If they say they will bring the report on time, follow the steps above – step one is to document the times, their responses, etc. to cover yourself.
  • If you are in a relationship with one, stop depending on them for the areas they are not “showing up” for. Take care of yourself first, you will be far less disappointed and start living your life whether they want to share it with you or not.


Admittedly, we all manifest passive aggressive behavior at some time or another.   My goal is to increase your awareness and provide practical tools to stop its debilitating power in your workplace. May you always communicate with CLASS


Pamela is a nationally and internationally known communication consultant, facilitator, speaker and coach.  Pamela founded her company, Communicate with CLASS in 2004 and has since created a solid reputation in working with individuals and companies to improve their business relationships. For more information visit her website:

View all articles by Pamela Cournoyer

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