How to Deal with Passive Aggressive Team Members in the Workplace

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employees working together to solve a problemNobody likes to work with that person. You know, that coworker who makes underhanded comments, sends snarky emails, and procrastinates. You may have realized that for all of the infuriating things he or she does, there’s never really been anything overtly offensive you can call them on. This is a classic example of passive aggression. Passive aggression on its own can be extremely frustrating, but even more so in the workplace. In a professional setting you are expected to maintain a level of equanimity that may seem impossible given the aggravating circumstance of dealing with covert hostility. If you find yourself struggling to coexist at work with a passive aggressive coworker, follow these tips to help put your mind at ease.

Check Yourself

Before you begin taking steps to address the issue, make sure that there is actually an issue warranting rectification. There is a difference between interacting with a passive aggressive person and interacting with someone you simply don’t like. If you find that you are annoyed by everything a certain coworker does, chances are the issue may lie within yourself. Make sure you are being fair in assessing whether or not the individual is treating you unjustly. And be sure you yourself aren’t acting passive aggressively. If you decide that you have reason to address a recurring issue, make sure to do it with tact.

Tackle the Issue Head On

Don’t try to beat them at their own game; fighting fire with fire has never been an effective solution. Speak up and ask the passive aggressor what their deal is—in a respectful and professional manner, of course. When you approach them, be sure to have specific incidents you can reference so that you can be as direct as possible. It is best if you even have documentation of the incident so that you can provide tangible evidence of the behavior you deem to be unacceptable.

Control Your Own Emotions

Stay calm. Passive aggression has the potential to incite more extreme emotion than can overt aggression because it does not give the receiver a chance to react without seeming unstable or groundless. Fight your urge to angrily confront the person as it will cause them to shut down, undermining the productivity of the conversation. Passive aggressive people like to avoid that type of confrontation so you’ll need to remain collected while at the same time speaking directly.

Be Open to Feedback

Take ownership of problems that you may have caused. If you show a willingness to accept fault, your adversary may open up to you about issues they may have with you. Once they tell you what is wrong, make a sincere apology for anything you truly think you may have done to offend that person. In addition to achieving conflict resolution, you may even receive a returned apology.

Accept your Inability to Change that Person

changing an indiviual If, when all is said and done, you cannot get through to the passive aggressive person, just remind yourself that only the individual can change himself. Passive aggression is a complex coping mechanism that will not likely go away with one conversation. It takes time, work, and maturation for someone to let go of a deeply rooted way of dealing with stress.

Though it may be difficult to work with passive aggressive people, the reality is you will probably encounter quite a few in your career. If you know to properly handle passive aggression you will save yourself a headache, and potentially, a trip to the HR office.

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