At some point in your career, you’ll have to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers. Like micromanagers or cubicle neighbors with bad boundaries, they appear to be universal in the modern office. But that doesn’t mean that you have to accept their behavior as is.
If you’re dealing with a coworker who makes snarky comments, sabotages your projects or undermines you in various ways, here’s what to do:
1. Resist the urge to over-analyze.
Why is this person always late to your meetings, quick with a cutting “joke” or comment, unavailable to help but always available to offer criticism? The answer is: it doesn’t matter.
It’s tempting to get caught up in the cycle of trying to understand your colleague’s bad behavior, but the important thing is to learn how to deal with it. Leave understanding it to them. It’s just not your job.
Why does your passive-aggressive coworker behave this way? It's not your job to find out.
Routine can save you, when you’re forced to deal with someone who’s habitually less than helpful. For example, if your colleague tends to avoid you, stop trying to pin them down on the spot. Instead, schedule a time to meet regularly. And, move quickly during those meetings. Be sure to keep to the point and not waste any time.
3. Set an example.
Whatever you do, don’t stoop to passive-aggression yourself — no matter how much this attitude pervades your office. Instead, set an example for others to follow. Be kind and also direct. You might be more influential around the office than you realize. Good behaviors encourage others to follow suit. Besides, stooping to their level won’t make you feel any better.
4. Know when to keep quiet or walk away.
It can be challenging to stay strong and adhere to your values of kindness and honesty in the face of seemingly limitless passive-aggression at work. So, learn how to recognize when a situation or a conversation isn’t in line with your values and beliefs. Then, if you can, walk away when you find yourself in one of those moments. Sometimes simply saying nothing and quietly removing yourself from an uncomfortable scene can actually speak volumes.
Passive-aggressive behavior stems from stress, anxiety and underlying insecurity. It’s a way to manage difficult feelings while avoiding direct confrontation. The best, most productive approach involves having some compassion for those fears. From that place, you can create an environment that combats the causes of the problem.
Focus on showing the passive-aggressive person that you are both a calm and a direct person. Create an environment that feels safe by encouraging and supporting others in a clear and kind manner. Over time, this could help the passive-aggressive person find a new and better way to communicate with you.
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