Verbal: sarcasm, inappropriate joking, hiding hostility behind a joke:
Non-verbal: using actions or body language to express hostility, like silent treatment, ignoring others, the cold shoulder or social exclusion
Victim mentality: resistance and avoiding responsibility by making excuses, such as “I’m a poor student, I’m having a difficult time”
Task-oriented passive aggressiveness: not sharing relevant details with colleagues, missing deadlines, stalling, not following instructions.
Obstruction, silent treatment and underhandedness. Is your colleague just evil or is there something more?
Picture these three work scenarios:
You ask a colleague for documents needed to take the project to the next level. No response.
You then ask your colleague a question at the copy machine. She pretends not to hear you.
During a meeting, your colleague jokes sarcastically about sensitive matters in front of others to embarrass you.
Chances are you may be dealing with passive-aggressive behaviour, where a person tries to act appropriately on the surface, but has a negative and obstructive attitude behind that façade, explained Preston Ni, a communications professor and the author of How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People. He points to a Chinese proverb to sum it up nicely: “Behind the smile there’s a hidden knife.”
More than meets the eye
As with anything, the severity of the behaviour varies from individual to individual. “Most everybody engages in mild passive-aggressive behaviour from time to time,” said Ni. “If I’m arguing with my friend and I don’t call her back right away, I’m not clinically or pathologically passive aggressive. However, pathological passive-aggressives tend to use their behaviour as a regular tool for survival, relationships, and interaction with people.”
At its most extreme, when passive aggressive behaviour becomes pathological — a modus operandi in private life or at work — Ni believes it springs from pain generated in childhood, when the person was cut off from his or her feelings or ridiculed or denied his feelings. “At some point, the person’s humanity was denied,” Ni said.
If those feelings are suppressed over the years, that anger eventually manifests itself in a way that isn’t constructive, according to Ni. A survival instinct evolves. The passive aggressive person will fight back against oppression, whether it’s real or simply perceived. In the workplace, obstructing a project through silent treatment or limited communication becomes the coping mechanism.
Communication gone dark
When a German consumer-goods executive negotiated a more interesting role for herself at work, she suddenly found several of her colleagues shifting back and forth between being cold and friendly.
“Generally, we’re a really talkative department,” said the 35 year old, who wished to remain unnamed because the situation at work is ongoing. But then there was weirdness.
She sent an email to them to ask if everything was OK. Her colleagues didn’t respond. Not a peep.
Rather than telling her they thought the move was unfair or letting her know that accepting those responsibilities without additional pay or a better title would, in turn, make it harder for the rest of them to get compensated after a promotion, they simply gave her the cold shoulder.
“They didn’t deny it, and they didn’t confirm it,” she said.
Befuddled by the mixed signals, the woman realised her own performance would decline if she didn’t act. “My boss was expecting things from me, so I had to force my colleagues to talk to me.”
She stayed professional and pursued task-related discussions, abandoning what was once a more personal and social work friendship. “I’m not really interested in rebuilding the personal relationship if somebody can switch on you like that,” she said.
Read More: Here