Like snipers, they take shots at you, masked with humor, often in public: “Back-handed Compliments and Sugar-Coated Hostility”. We all know people like that. Their true desire is to hurt you, but they are not being upfront about it. This form of behavior is cowardice or a false niceness. Here is the Urban Dictionary take on passive-aggressiveness (I apologize for the swear word they include). Or check out this brief passage from the Mayo Clinic. When you have time, read this invaluable blog post on triangulation. This is when a person schemes to pit two people against one another for their own benefit or turns several people against one particular person. Complaining to a third party is another form of passive-aggressiveness used by people unable to address issues directly. I must ask: how good a friend are you if you cannot be “delicately honest?”[i]
Passive-aggressive behavior is rooted in a number of causes:
- Fear of rejection “If you’re no longer the hero, will people see you as the villain?”[ii]
- Fear of conflict/confrontation
- Fear of failure
- Insecurity/Vulnerability - Sharing true feelings or making requests of others makes some people feel vulnerable, but “the gap between what you’re really thinking and what you’re saying is part of what makes a conversation difficult.”[iii]
Here is a great passage from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Chapter six is entitled “Seek and Speak Your Truth:”
Authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for successful relationships at home and real effectiveness at work. Yet people constantly back away from honesty to protect themselves and others. This reticence causes and perpetuates all kinds of problems: uncomfortable issues that never get addressed, resentment that builds…..Often these situations don’t improve because no one tells anyone what is really happening.
By now you've probably thought of a person or two (or you!) who behave in this manner. After all, passive-aggressive behavior is quite common place. Regardless of who you recognize, a change in behavior is possible. Numerous resources for implementing change or neutralizing the effect of other people’s passive-aggressive behavior on you are available at your public library or online. Psychology Today offers plenty of reading material. Here are three Harvard Business Review articles:
Recognizing and treating the underlying causes will make it easier to change the passive-aggressive behavior. This can be done by building self-confidence, using negotiation tools, or practicing assertiveness. The One’s Self page and the Communication page in my library are both great starting points. Visit Tammy’s Library for more resources on Optimizing Your Life!