Recognizing & Addressing Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Have you experienced one or more of the following?

  • Your email got “lost” or “buried”
  • Your request for information was ignored
  • Your call was sent straight to voicemail
  • Your voicemail wasn’t returned
  • You were told what you wanted to do was “fine”. Turns out it wasn’t
  • Your project was “important” but there wasn’t time to do it
  • You were told you were doing a good job and then got a bad performance review
  • Someone was upset with you and wouldn’t tell you why
  • Someone was nice to your face and then stabbed you in the back

Chances are you are nodding your head right now and thinking, “Yeah, I really need to know how to get people to not do that stuff.” I want to ask you a tough question and the only person who needs a straight answer is you: How many of those things have you done?

Passive-aggressive behavior is unhealthy for everyone involved. It breaks down trust, encourages negative gossip and can eat away at our confidence. We are all guilty of doing it; usually because we are trying to avoid conflict or disappointment or we fear rejection. We have to keep that in mind when other people do it to us as well. Solving it starts within.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and others (gently):

  1. What am I avoiding? – There is a reason you’re doing what you’re doing. Be honest with yourself and put it in words
  2. What is the worst thing that could happen? – When we are in an uncomfortable situation our minds can make up catastrophic results. What is your mind making up?
  3. What do I really want to say? – This might be mean, nasty, or politically incorrect. Venting the negative energy is healthy as long as it is done in a safe and confidential environment.  With your coach – yes. With a family member – maybe.  With a coworker or on social media – most certainly not.   
  4. What is “my truth”? – This is where you get to decide what is important for the other person to hear and what is your emotion that you need to manage. Being able to manage passive-aggressive behavior means you have to be able to tell the difference between truth and emotion.
  5. What is my best outcome? – Having a goal is the only way to achieve a positive outcome. Maybe you have to tell someone you aren’t willing to recommend their work. Maybe you don’t really know how to proceed with a project and you need to ask for help. Whatever it is, know what you want before you start the conversation.
  6. How do I express this respectfully and professionally? – This is where a lot of us struggle. There is an art to being able to take numbers three, four and five and create a cohesive, kind and complete idea. Ask for help from a trusted source who doesn’t have any emotional skin in the game. If you don’t have someone like that in your immediate circle, there are coaches like me who can help with one-off problems and/or provide training.

You are now ready to take action. Stop avoiding that person. Answer his/her question with the truth.

Over time you will get a reputation for being a straight talker who can tell the truth with kindness and compassion and hear the truth without jumping to conclusions and becoming defensive. As your friends, colleagues, coworkers and leaders begin to trust you not to behave passive-aggressively; they will feel less need to treat you passive-aggressively. And that my friend is how you get people to stop doing “that stuff”.

As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!

Doc Robyn

PS - If you are interested in working with a coach, I'd be happy to have a conversation with you to discuss how I can support your success. All you have to do is ask.

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known motivational speaker, executive coach and corporate trainer. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence by sharing active leadership, powerful teamwork, conscious communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time. To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, please call 302-307-3091 or email her at

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