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Four ways to squash passive aggressive behavior in the office

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We all know that difficult employee who repeatedly forgets things or waits until the very last minute to complete a project. Maybe he showed up late because the train was stuck (only it wasn’t). When the boss needed that report by 3 pm, she finished by 5 and justified that the boss was in a meeting anyway. At the last big meeting, she asked to turn in 10 ideas but only showed up with five “really good ones,” and she didn’t mention (intentionally left out) an important request that a specific client wanted, because she figured you should have already known. He’s never really angry, blatantly incompetent, or even obstinate, for that matter. On the contrary, he may be quite likeable on a personal basis, but when he is working on your team for a big project, you start to feel ill. These are just a few traits of the passive-aggressive worker.

Passive-aggressive colleagues can be difficult to work with and cause major stress, but there are ways to improve this challenging work relationship:

1. Talk it out

Unlike a personal relationship, the workplace is not a place where we can fully express our deepest emotions and insecurities. Employees who feel unappreciated and unable to verbalize it may react passively as an act of rebellion. Some may just have a passive personality trait born out of fear of speaking up. Others may feel slighted because they didn’t get the raise or the title, or accolades they had been counting on.

By directly addressing the passive behavior, you can get to the bottom of what caused it. Many colleagues may never bring up a topic that is bothering them, but they may speak about it when asked. A passive person is unlikely to initiate the conversation, but the behavior must be addressed in order to improve the work environment, so being proactive on your part will only help.

2. Keep it calm

Asking someone about the way he works, a missed deadline, or any perceived incompetence may bring out anxious or hostile feelings, especially in someone who has reacted passive aggressively. Open the conversation in friendly, matter-of-fact terms with no finger pointing or admonishing.

It is possible that the person does not even realize what she is doing, and after a good conversation, may change her actions. The aim is to identify why the passive behavior is occurring and ways to improve the daily workplace, plain and simple. The goal is to produce better results for all involved, not judge anyone.

3. Stick to the facts

Use language that is non-threatening and does not place blame. Instead of saying “you failed to meet the deadline again,” say “I noticed the article was two days late. What can we do to ensure that doesn’t happen next time?” Then help create fair consequences (in writing) the next time around for what will occur when a deadline is missed on a collective project.

Share with your whole team, not just the individual in question, so that no one feels singled out. If you are working together in a group, or even as a manager or supervisor, it helps to invite each team member to contribute to the guidelines conversation, so everyone feels heard.

4. Keep your door open

Let your colleagues know that they can come to you if they have questions and that communication is vital. A little bit of basic goodwill goes a long way. Yes, it may be their job to have given you that report or delivered the files you needed, but it never hurts anyone to say “thank you” when they do it. Everyone wants to feel that what they do and who they are matters. When people feel comfortable and appreciated, they are likely to express themselves more clearly.

Like in all things in life, it’s not so much what we do, but our motive behind what we do. Intention is everything. When employees have good, positive intentions toward work and colleagues, they will have less motivation to act out passively in the workplace.

Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @Deewrite.

Posted 12:00 am, March 18, 2018
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