How to Stop Being Passive Aggressive at Work

Let’s get one thing straight: Conflict is not easy to deal with. In a perfect world, we’d all get along, and all see the same point of view. But with seven billion people in the world, it’s almost certain that you’ll end up working alongside or for someone (or multiple someones) with whom you disagree with on pretty much every level possible.

But just because you don’t agree with everything your boss or colleague believes in doesn’t mean you can’t coexist productively. But this certainly won’t happen if you consistently approach them in a passive aggressive manner. All that will do is halt productivity completely and cause a rift to grow between you and your coworkers. The worst part of passive aggressive behavior is you don’t realize you’re acting in such a way when you’re in the thick of a disagreement. The best way to stave off such counterproductive behavior is to approach interactions objectively and see if there’s any way you can improve your own behavior, regardless of how the other party is acting.

See Also: How to Help Colleagues That Are Victims of Aggression

1. Recognize what triggers your passive-aggressiveness

You might not consider yourself to be a passive aggressive person, because for the most part you’re happy-go-lucky, and you go with the flow. But certain instances cause you to lose who you really are, and that’s when passive aggressiveness begins to control your actions and emotions. The first step toward making a change is pinpointing what sets you off. Is it a lazy coworker? A boss who doesn’t take your suggestions seriously? A supervisor who should never have been given the power he has, who makes terrible decisions over and over again with zero repercussions?

These situations seem impossible to deal with without creating massive conflict, so you might end up exhibiting passive aggressive behavior in place of rational thoughts and actions. Like I said, these situations only seem impossible to deal with; it’s your reaction to the problems that actually make them impossible to deal with. When you’re stressed, you start thinking irrationally and not acting like yourself, and that’s when the real trouble begins.

Obviously, anger is an uncomfortable emotion to deal with, so it may seem easier to sweep it under the rug rather than confront it head-on. Instead of approaching issues with passion and a productive mindset, you take the “whatever you say” approach, letting others walk all over you. In a twisted way, your coworkers’ and boss’s reactions to this behavior reinforce your actions, and the cycle continues.

2. Recognize a need for change

Again, when you’re caught up in this passive aggressive cycle, you probably don’t realize how detrimental it is to yourself and everyone around you. You think it’s everyone else around you who is at fault, and that you’re completely powerless in your current situation. You may be powerless over how other people work and act, but you do have control over how you react to the annoyances and aggravation you face on a daily basis.

Becoming self-aware is the next step in the process of fixing your passive aggressive behavior. Recognize that, even if others are mistreating you or are making decisions that hinder productivity, your negative reaction will only make things worse.

When acting passive aggressively, you probably exhibit temporary compliance, intentional inefficiency, or both at some point during your interactions with others. Temporary compliance is when you agree to complete a task that you don’t necessarily see the importance of, and almost subconsciously procrastinate getting to work on the project. It might even stem from the feeling that your boss doesn’t appreciate your efforts, so there’s no point in trying to impress him. Intentional inefficiency is similar, in that you don’t put your best effort into completing the task at hand, and hand in less-than-stellar work. The passive aggressiveness in you will rationalize this behavior by claiming you “did what was asked of you,” but if you’re not working to your full potential, you’re hurting the company as well as yourself.

Try to be as objective as possible; see yourself and your actions from a top-down view. Imagine watching yourself on a recorded video. Is the person you see acting passive aggressively who you really are? Most likely, the answer is no. Once you’ve realized you turn into someone you’re not when you’re angry or stressed out, you’ll realize it’s time to make some changes.

3. Work toward a healthier mindset and healthier habits

Now that you realize you have a problem, you need to accept that fixing it will take some effort. That’s not a bad thing; anything worth accomplishing is worth working for. It will take time, patience, and practice, but if you’re diligent in your efforts, you will emerge as a much healthier individual.

As said from the beginning, passive-aggressiveness occurs in people who aim to avoid conflict at all costs. Remember that conflict is unavoidable, and in fact at times is necessary for progress. Work on asserting yourself, standing up for your beliefs, and ensuring that your needs are met, but do so in a productive manner. Remain calm, and certainly don’t cause a scene. You will only embarrass yourself and everyone else involved. Don’t get your back up if your boss makes a decision that you don’t agree with. He’s not attacking you personally—it’s you who sees it that way. Chances are your boss didn’t even take the time to consider your feelings when he made whatever decision he made. And that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care; it just means he’s much too busy to worry about emotions when dealing with company business.

Most importantly, regardless of the task you’re given, take pride in all that you do. Remember: you’re not the boss; your job is to do what he says. Even if you don’t agree with it, or if you feel disheartened by how unappreciated you are, shutting down won’t do anything to further your case. Instead, put your best effort into every task handed to you, especially the menial ones. This will show that you’re a team player and are willing to bend over backward to see the company thrive. Maybe then you’ll start being recognized as the go-getter you always saw yourself as.

4. Seek out help

Like I said, making personal improvements is not necessarily an easy thing to do. There’s absolutely no shame in asking for help. Speak with your loved ones about the improvements you’re trying to make, and know that they’re there for you whenever you need them. Look to trusted colleagues and coworkers for support as well. Most importantly, though it may be incredibly difficult to do, you should approach the people you’ve been having trouble with and try to straighten things out as best as possible. They’ll hopefully respect your honesty and be receptive to your attempt to “bury the hatchet,” and both parties will be able to move forward in a productive manner.

If all else fails, there is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help. A therapist will help you come to certain understandings about yourself that you may have had trouble facing, but will do so in a way that ultimately makes you feel better about who you are.

See Also: 5 Ways to Deal With a Supervisor Who Attacks Your Character

A person’s passive aggressive behavior is believe it or not, a sign of their passion (albeit misguided passion, but passion nonetheless). People who act passive aggressively do so because they’re not getting what they know they deserve, or what they know is fair and just. However, there are many better ways to deal with disappointment and disillusionment than to simply shut down and throw pity-parties for yourself. Take the productive route, and you’ll end up feeling much better about yourself.

Have you ever found yourself acting passive aggressively at work? What did you do to remedy the situation?

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