Desert Flour

A 20-Something's Musings on Life, Love and Faith

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Passive Aggressive Behavior – Dealing with Masked Hostility

In my work space and personal life I take on a number of different leadership roles. These are often team-driven positions that require an ebb and flow of sharing ideas and responsibilities.

My work life is a great example of how this can be done efficiently. We have open dialogues, respectful disagreements and know that when we ask someone to complete a task – we can count on them to complete it.  This is effective collaboration. This is how people act professionally.

Unfortunately some of my personal life commitments struggle with this kind of group cohesion.

This is where the ugly monster of passive aggressive behavior exists all while hiding behind the mask of a smiling everything-is-fine behavior.


Everything is fineee…..See? Smiling?

First I’ll say – I don’t think it’s fair to call all passive aggressive behavior negative. At times it stems from a position of wanting to avoid unnecessary direct conflict and can serve as a form of compromise. “I don’t really agree with you – but I don’t want to make this a huge issue so I’ll just go along with it.”

Under this rationale, it is passive aggressive behavior because you aren’t openly acknowledging your disagreements – however there isn’t an underlying hostility in the action. While it may not be the best form of group work, it can still result in a workable outcome for everyone.

It’s the other traits you see with passive aggressive behavior that are rooted in actual anger or hostility that can completely derail a group’s momentum. These look like:


Withholding any opinion

Being critical without solid rationale

Conscious or Unconscious Sabotage

Running Late

Not doing something that’s asked of him/her

These actions may not even be intentional – but they are predictable behaviors that come from someone who is dissatisfied with the group and is acting with a kind of tempered hostility. It’s really damaging to both the group’s productivity as well as the friendships or interrelationships amongst the members.

I am getting better at recognizing these signs within our group – when someone will smile and agree with a group conversation – but then never complete the task of sending out an email or making a contact call. They didn’t want to do it, and instead of saying something outright, they just “didn’t get to it” for whatever reason.

Or the times our group will propose an exciting new idea for growth and someone will tear it to shreds for no real tangible reason – perhaps other than it wasn’t their idea to begin with?

Or the person who doesn’t have prior work or family commitments, but still comes late to your designated meeting time, because they just really don’t want to be there.

It can be hard for me to understand.

I really care about our group and about being an effective leadership team. And whenever you are passionate about a cause or a group you really want those who are supposed to be on the same page as you, to show the same kind of dedication and excitement you feel.

And so I am trying to be patient and kind and loving to my friends, but it is taking a significantly greater amount of energy to self-check that I’m not responding in passive-aggressive ways to their initial passive aggressive behaviors.

When someone needs another reminder to compete a task – I’m trying to let go of my frustration and impatience and just be glad when it does get done.

When someone makes unreasonable demands or snarky comments on a proposal – I’m trying not to mass text other people for confirmation on just how unreasonable and snarky they are, thereby perpetuating these feelings of negativity amongst our other group members.

I think it especially helps me to understand that a lot of this behavior is stemming either from a place of indifference or insecurity on their part.

They are acting hostile either because they are so checked out and really need a break from some of this stress. Or they are acting this way because they feel their own power is threatened and they are doing what they can to assert themselves – in what they feel is a socially acceptable manner.

Especially as we turn to the end of this week towards giving thanks for all that we have and hold dear – I am trying to look at these petty squabbles as just minor irritations.

They will flow off me like water over stone.

(I recognize this simile also implies the water will wear the stone down eventually …. But I am finding it a nice meditational touchstone image for now…)

So I would encourage you to approach those passive-aggressive people in your life with some more patience this week. Don’t necessarily back down on things you really care about, but just try and gain some elevated perspective on why they may be acting a certain way or pushing your buttons.