Michael Sterling

How to Pull the Plug on Passive-Aggressive Behavior


I once saw a definition of someone who is passive-aggressive as “annoying turd.” I laughed. Then, I realized that humor is one of the best ways to pull the plug on passive-aggressive  behavior.


We all know at least one passive-aggressive person. When we come across a passive-aggressive person in the workplace, dealing with them can be daunting. They can literally demotivate, frustrate and infuriate.  Productivity of entire teams can be derailed by one person’s veiled hostility, bitterness and resentment.


There are ways to manage passive-aggressive behavior. You may not be able to change the person, but you can change how they impact you and your team’s efforts.



5 Ways to Pull the Plug on Passive-Aggressive Behavior


  1. Respond with Humor. Humor is a great way to defuse the negative energy. Passive-aggressive people will often ignore you rather than confront you. If you address someone who refuses to respond – try saying light-heartedly “Great! I knew you’d like the idea.” This moves the idea or project forward without the opportunity for being torpedoed.
  2. Don’t Overreact. The key here is not to take the situation personally. Psychologists note that this behavior is more about the person themselves – and less about you.
  3. Don’t Enable or Give Power. Arguing or “giving them a dose of their own medicine,” by using passive-aggressive behavior, will backfire. If you do this – you give them power. Often the person will claim to be the victim – and may even lead to you being the individual who comes away wearing the black hat or being seen as the bully.
  4. Communicate in Writing. Take and keep control of the situation. Place communication in writing to document everything – facts, issues, disagreements, deadlines, etc.  If you’re dealing in person, try to have another team member be a part of the discussion to witness and help manage the verbal communication.
  5. Steer clear when possible. Sometimes the best interaction is no interaction! If you don’t need to communicate or deal with this personality-type on the team – don’t. Stay focused on your work, your deadlines, your clients and your success. You’ll be the winner every time.


Passive-aggressive behavior stems from a personality disorder. As I mentioned,  changing the person is unlikely – you’ll simply be tilting at windmills.  Altering the methods in which you handle this personality will keep your productivity and energy focused on getting your job done.


As a career coach and recruiter, working exclusively with Public Accountants, I help professional attain their career goals. Connect with me on LinkedIn.


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