Are You A Passive-Aggressive Communicator?

communicatingBy Andrew D Pope —

Do you struggle with expressing negative emotion directly with your co-workers? Do you fear conflict and reprisals if you display your true emotions to others? Do you send out mixed signals and use mixed or evasive language about how you actually feel?

Do you find yourself undermining people and gossiping about them behind their backs? Do you feel the urge to “get back” at someone but only want to do it if you can remain anonymous? Do you “freeze out” other people when you feel slighted by them?

Is your communication predominantly negative, evasive and blame oriented? Do you procrastinate constantly and look for ways to undermine the work of others? Do you have low self-esteem and feel like a victim?

If someone reacts angrily to you do you feign surprise and back down hurriedly? Do you find that you’re alienating everyone around you and always having problems at work?

If you have answered yes to the majority of the above questions then you may well be developing or already exhibiting what’s known as passive-aggressive language and behaviour.

You will likely be a very disruptive and ill-thought of member of your workgroup. If you want to stop the rot you need to take some action or someone will take action for you.

Passive-aggressive behaviour appears when people struggle or fail to express their negative emotions directly to others in an assertive way. Their hostile feelings are then expressed indirectly; often to someone other than the person who actually upset them originally. Unassertive behaviour and passive-aggression often go together. It is very destructive to you and the morale of others.

Big clues for you would be if you didn’t take calls from or ignore someone you’re angry with, if you “freeze out” someone, you “accidentally on purpose” forget something to undermine the position of someone else or promise to do something that you have no intention of doing.

Examples of vocabulary and language styles used by passive-aggressive people would be “I’ll try” or “I’ll see,” “Yeah but,” “Possibly,” “Maybe,” “I’ll get back to you soon” or If… Then statements such as “If he does that then I might be able to do the other.” Excessive sarcasm and malicious gossip coupled with mismatched messages and body language are other big clues. These are all forms of hostile, evasive and duplicitous language and behaviour.

The problem for you if you are exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviour is that it makes other people resentful and angry, it causes huge confusion and everyone you work with will eventually stop trusting or interacting with you. Passive-aggressive behaviour blocks communication, kills relationships, solves nothing and the spiral of doom for your career continues ever downward. Your self-esteem suffers as well.

By the way, you will usually be the last to notice all these things. Everyone else will have picked up on it and it may take an unwelcome or unexpected “chat” with your boss to alert you to the fact that you have a problem.

What can you do about it?

The root issue is your failure to express negative emotions, or ask for what you do want, directly. You lack assertiveness so the way to reverse things is to become more assertive. This would constitute an article on its own but here are some simple ideas that may help you.

Ask for what you want rather than just stating what you don’t want. Use “I” statements and realise that what you want is important. Meet people half way and accept compromises. Read a self-help book or attend a class in assertive behaviour. Assertive does not mean aggressive. Practice and be open to feedback.

If you are struggling to make headway in overcoming your fears of direct emotional interaction then I suggest you seek more robust help. Speak to your boss first and see what your organisation can do to help you. Alternatively, consult with your medical practitioner. Don’t wait until things get bad for you and others. Take some personal responsibility and control before someone else does it for you?

I wish you well.

I enable individuals and organisations to develop far more effective, persuasive and influential face to face marketing, sales, presentation and speaking skills. I also write and speak about face to face marketing and motivation. I am the author of “Business Networking for the Bewildered.”

Check out my website at

All the best to you and yours from Andy Pope

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