This Is How You Stop a Coworker's Passive-Aggressive Behavior

This Is How You Stop a Coworker's Passive-Aggressive Behavior
by Nicole Smartt
August 26, 2016
There's nothing like a little passive-aggressive behavior to put a damper on your morning and—if it's coming from your coworker—on your workplace. Good thing you're about to learn how to disarm them.
Regardless of what position you hold at your job, you’ll likely run into a coworker who tends to behave passive-aggressively. This kind of attitude can be poisonous at an individual level, but it can also really damage your company culture and the quality of life for everyone involved. 

If you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker, there are many actions you can take to help get you past the moment and position you to be able to diffuse future instances as well. 

First, let’s talk for a minute about the symptoms of passive-aggression.

step 1: watch out for these Common EXAMPLES of Workplace passive-aggressive BehavioR


Not getting around to tasks promised to coworkers might be a sign of passive-aggression, but it could also be rooted in your coworker's personal paralysis. If you can determine that procrastination is “just part of their working style,” you may not be dealing with someone who is actually behaving passive-aggressively. 

Sarcasm/Snark/Snide Remarks 

Again, these may also be rooted in personality and not intended as you'd expect. Passive-aggression is characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and avoidance of direct confrontation. It isn’t necessarily rooted in sarcasm. However, if you’re getting a bratty attitude from the same person frequently (or all the time), you might be in the presence of passive-aggressive behavior. 

Making Excuses 

This is a behavior that’s either rooted in passive-aggression or an overall unwillingness to take ownership and face the consequences. If it’s consistent behavior, you’re likely to be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior. 

step 2: stop the BEHAVIOR with these moves

No matter the cause of the passive-aggression, there are some things you can do to keep the behavior from causing big stress and poisoning your workplace. 

Let's Say You Got a Passive-Aggressive Email

First, take several deep breaths. Either mark the message as unread or flag it the way you prefer. If the message has made you angry, really take your time responding. Once you're ready, make sure your response is rooted in fact, especially if you're going to disagree with their message. Even after you draft a response, though, don’t send it right away. Think about something else for a while, then go back and reread.

If Your Coworker's Just So Negative

Stay positive and focus on positive results. When you're forced to engage, redirect, then brush it off. This person’s behavior doesn’t have to impact yours. 

If Your Coworker Keeps Complaining About Your Work or the Company

Hear them out. Sometimes passive-aggression is the direct result of not feeling heard, especially in the workplace. If you suspect the person feels unheard, be the ear that they need, and take their input seriously.

If You're Facing Repeat Passive-Aggressive Behavior (And You Just Can't Take It Anymore)

Don’t stoop to making accusations. If you must talk about corrective action of any kind, make the conversation results-focused, not blame-focused. Yelling at or publicly calling out a person behaving passive-aggressively won't make the situation better. Instead, begin taking notes about how the tension is actually affecting the quality of your coworker's work.

step 3: remember that it's actually not personal

Remember, passive-aggressive behavior often stems from a person feeling their needs aren’t being met. Unless you are intentionally and personally depriving the person of something they feel they need or are entitled to, it’s not personal, and you should behave accordingly. Passive-aggressive behavior is a symptom of underlying issues, so by being a listener, focusing on the positive, and not stooping to blame, you can often disarm it. 

step 4: If all Else Fails, Take it to HR

But if you’re dealing with a serious situation, don’t be afraid to take the conversation to a public place, ask for help from someone above you, or talk to HR. You don’t deserve to be punished, no matter what your coworker is going through. It can be very stressful to be on the receiving end of passive-aggression. You don’t have to carry it alone. 
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Got any other tricks for dealing with a coworker's passive-aggressive behavior?