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Defining "Passive-Aggressive" Behavior: What It Means and How to Deal with It

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

"Passive-aggressive" is a term often thrown around in everyday conversations, but what does it really mean? We know this behavior can be frustrating, confusing, and counterproductive in both personal and professional relationships, and we hear about it a lot - but what, actually, is "Passive-aggressive" and how can we deal with it, constructively

What Does "Passive-Aggressive" Mean?

Passive-aggressive behavior refers to a style of communication and interaction where an individual expresses their negative feelings, resentment, or anger indirectly, often through subtle and covert means. Instead of openly addressing their concerns or conflicts, a passive-aggressive person may employ various tactics to avoid direct confrontation, leaving the other party feeling confused, irritated, or hurt.

Characteristics of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

  1. Indirectness: Passive-aggressive individuals rarely express their feelings, needs, or complaints directly. They prefer to mask their true emotions behind a facade of compliance or friendliness. *Example: If a co-worker consistently disagrees with your ideas during meetings but never voices their concerns openly, this could be passive-aggressive behavior

  2. Procrastination: Chronic delay or procrastination on tasks, promises, or responsibilities is a common passive-aggressive tactic. This can disrupt teamwork and create unnecessary stress. *Example: If your roommate repeatedly postpones their share of household chores despite agreeing to a schedule, they might be engaging in passive-aggressive behavior.

  3. Sarcasm and Mockery: Passive-aggressive individuals often resort to sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or veiled insults to express their dissatisfaction without confronting the issue directly. *Example: When you ask your partner about dinner plans, and they respond with, "Well, I'm sure your cooking will be as interesting as always," it's a passive-aggressive way of saying they don't want your cooking.

  4. Denial of Hostility: A hallmark of passive-aggressive behavior is the denial of any ill intentions. The person may claim they were "just joking" or "didn't mean anything by it" when confronted about their actions. *Example: If someone makes a snide remark about your outfit and then dismisses it with a casual laugh, they might be employing passive-aggressive denial.

  5. Avoidance of Responsibility: Passive-aggressive individuals often dodge responsibility for their actions, shifting blame onto others or circumstances. *Example: If someone consistently fails to meet deadlines and then blames their colleagues for distracting them, it's a passive-aggressive way of avoiding accountability.

How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Behavior

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