4 Ways to Handle Your Passive-Aggressive Boss

Passive-aggression is difficult to deal with under any circumstances, but at work, it's a potential career killer -- especially if the passive-aggressive person in question is your boss. The worst part is, it's not always easy to tell when your manager is guilty of this destructive behavior; on the outside, he might seem sweet and easy to work with. Here's how to spot the tell-tale signs and cope with the situation effectively.

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What Is Passive-Aggression?

People who are uncomfortable with confrontation sometimes develop passive-aggressive behavior patterns. Instead of having an unpleasant conversation -- for example, telling an employee they have to improve -- a passive-aggressive manager will tell you (to your face) that your work is fine and then tell his own boss you need to be replaced.

Examples of passive aggressive behavior include:

  • Ignoring workers who have questions;
  • Evading problems by pretending they don't exist; and
  • Playing the victim, which includes blaming others for things that go wrong.

Passive-aggressive behavior creates a toxic work environment. Calm communication is key to maintaining your sanity and your reputation.

1. Don't Personalize

If your boss seems passive-aggressive and, for example, is ignoring your appropriate and professional emails, don't assume he hates you. Any number of things may be going on; he may be under pressure that you are unaware of.

If your boss exhibits a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior, remember that it is his problem, not yours. You can't change him. Remembering this might save your sanity.

2. Schedule Regular Meetings

It may be tempting to tackle your passive-aggressive boss the minute she emerges from her office, but if she is avoiding you, that may make the situation worse. Ask about scheduling regular meetings. A short, weekly meeting to discuss clients or questions adds efficiency to the office.

Regular meetings may also take the pressure off of your boss who no longer has to worry about being tackled. However, best to send an email reminder before the meeting to make sure she doesn't "forget."

3. Communicate Effectively

Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. explains how to respond to a manager's inappropriate comments. Avoid triggering defensiveness by making "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example,

Say, "I did meet the deadline" instead of "You said I didn't meet the deadline, but I did." Say, "I don't think that's funny" instead of "Your joke is offensive."

4. Go Up the Ladder

No one wants to "tattle." And employees are often understandably nervous about going over their boss' head. Sometimes, however, this is necessary. While talking to the CEO about your boss' behavior may feel like a risk, allowing your bad boss to control your career may be a bigger risk.

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