Recognising passive-aggressive behaviour
“I thought you knew.”, “Fine. Whatever.”, “If you really want to.” These are the most common passive-aggressive phrases you can hear at work, when talking with your colleagues. There is a fine-line between being funny and hurting other people. We may all laugh at a carefully-mastered passive-aggressive meme posted on social media. But when it goes beyond humour, passive-aggressiveness can be very damaging for the people around us and even for ourselves.
Passive-aggressiveness has become more common in the workplace over the last number of years. Usually, it appears as the avoidance of direct confrontation or a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger, anxiety, or perceived threat. Gallup has identified it as one of the biggest challenges that managers face when managing their teams. A passive-aggressive manager can negatively impact team-engagement, productivity and therefore lead to an increase in employee turnover. A recent study shows the tremendous influence a manager can have on their teams: 70% of the variance in employee engagement is tied to the managers’ skills and behaviours. Therefore, it is important to quickly identify unhealthy management behaviours that can negatively influence the team and indirectly impact overall company performance.
At XTENSOS, during our Executive Coaching and Mentoring sessions with clients, we have worked with Managers, Directors, VPs and C-level executives who have sometimes displayed passive-aggressive behaviours towards their employees or customers.
For team-members, the expectations of a passive-aggressive manager can be very ambiguous. Sometimes clarity is only provided after a project has already been completed and there are very few chances given to correct the tasks or learn from any mistakes made. When this happens, motivation and job satisfaction can decrease significantly, leaving the team-members with a deep sense of confusion and frustration.
As a team-member – how should you deal with a passive-aggressive manager?
There is no straightforward solution that will give instant results when dealing with passive-aggressive managers. With managers who give you little or no context for implementing projects or tasks, you can ask additional clarifying questions to avoid making assumptions. It will help to always adopt a calm attitude and try to explain why you need this additional information from him or her.
It is a well-known fact that behaviour from one person usually breeds similar behaviour in others. Before you instantly react to passive-aggressive behaviour from your manager, with anger or defensiveness, just remember that these attitudes often mask a real problem. The manager may have an underlying preference to avoid conflict or they may be suffering from, frustration or anxiety. While you may not be able to control the manager’s behaviour towards you, you can control your reaction towards their passive-aggressiveness. It is up to you to decide if you will allow these behaviours to affect you or not. With continuous focus and exercise, you can achieve a point where you will judge these issues more rationally than emotionally, helping you to better cope with difficult people and reduce the stress associated with dealing with them. If you want to read more about how and why it is so important to develop your own resilience, check out “The 7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey.
As a company – how should you deal with a passive-aggressive manager?
Companies should have a clearly defined set of values and beliefs which govern the types of behaviours that they expect to see their managers display. Passive-aggressiveness will usually not be one of these acceptable behaviours.
It is usually best to manage both the manger’s behaviour and the team-member’s resilience in parallel. Coaching is often the best solution to reduce or even eliminate the passive-aggressive behaviour. It helps team-members to develop greater resilience and to learn techniques to prevent or reduce the impact that passive-aggressiveness has on them.
Although the passive-aggressive behaviour may be the result of many years of uncorrected experiences it is important that companies address this issue when it affects the performance of individuals, the business and the wellbeing of employees.
XTENSOS solutions for handling passive-aggressiveness
Through our Executive Coaching and Mentoring solutions, we tend to work with both sides, i.e. the passive-aggressive manager and his or her team-members. Our qualified coaches are highly experienced at dealing with this issue and we have helped many organisations to move past this destructive behaviour into a more actively-managed work-environment.
To help people master healthy management and leadership skills and build an engaging work-environment, we have also developed comprehensive Management Development and Leadership Development programmes. They are designed to help people-leaders to learn some best practices, as well as pick up some useful tools and techniques for actively managing their global teams and successfully delivering true employee engagement.