How to Deal With a Passive Aggressive Coworker

Passive-aggressive behavior is a common problem in the workplace, and it can really hamper an employee’s productivity.

According to career experts, here are some tips on how to deal with them:

Michael Moran

Michael Moran

Owner and Recruiting Manager, Green Lion Search Group

Here is my advice on dealing with passive-aggressive coworkers, based on my experience in past recruiting firms and my work with other companies and teams:

Understanding the “why” of the behavior matters

There are different flavors of passive-aggressive behavior and different psychological impulses behind them. It often comes from a place of fear or lack of confidence.

It can especially get complicated if the passive-aggressive individual has developed those behaviors as a coping mechanism for past toxicity they experienced—if they were reprimanded or fired in the past for speaking their mind.

For example, they might respond by hiding those negative emotions behind sarcasm, silent treatments, or other behaviors that seem petty from the outside without this context.

The reason the “why” matters is that it can help you find the most successful way to move forward with the relationship.

Suppose someone is passive-aggressive because of past workplace trauma. In that case, the behavior will likely fade or disappear entirely once they feel they’re allowed to have a voice and won’t be punished for speaking their opinion directly.

In other situations, the behavior is a more deeply ingrained part of their psyche, and you’ll be better off finding workarounds than trying to help them resolve their problems.

Establish boundaries and don’t engage beyond them

Separating yourself from the negative behavior can help mitigate its effects on your work and mental health. You may still have to interact with the coworker in some capacity, but you can minimize your contact.

If they tend to make snide remarks as they walk by your desk (to give an example from my experience), something as simple as putting on headphones while you work can remove the opportunity. Small adjustments like this can add up to a much more positive work environment.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

Have a conversation with them about the behavior that bothers you and why

If you only complain about the coworker’s passive-aggressive behavior behind their back with friends, you’re also acting passive-aggressively, and that just contributes to the overall negativity and toxicity.

Instead, have a conversation with them about the behavior that bothers you and why.

You can ask a manager or mutually-trusted colleague to mediate the conversation if you’re concerned it will devolve into emotions one-on-one. During the conversation, do your best to avoid sounding like you’re accusing the individual. Make it about the behavior and your reaction—e.g., “It bothers me when I receive the silent treatment because…”

Many people behave passive-aggressively because they’re afraid of conflict or haven’t learned the language and skills to successfully navigate conflict. Having the conversation brought into the open gives them a chance to speak their grievances, and this can lead to a deeper mutual respect and understanding.

For those who act passive-aggressively as a form of emotional manipulation, showing that you won’t just silently accept the behavior will often send them looking for a different target—not a solution for the problem, certainly, but at least a respite for you from the behavior.

Archie Payne

Archie Payne

President, CalTek Staffing

The first thing you need to accept is that people who have passive-aggressive tendencies will never admit they are wrong. I have a few ways of dealing with these types of people:

Always remain calm and professional – Keep your cool

Recognizing passive-aggressive behavior is the first step towards managing it. I have come to realize that by taking a step back and acknowledging that this behavior is often a by-product of low self-esteem, insecurity, or a personal grudge of sorts, you are already on the front foot.

It is so easy to get entangled in a negative situation which inevitably creates more stress for you.

I always remind myself not to fight fire with fire as this is counterproductive and is bound to drive your co-worker into withdrawal or a further negative spiral. Staying calm and professional has the effect of de-escalating the situation.

My experience is that it does take practice remaining calm. The more you anticipate the behavior and consciously decide to remain calm and professional, the easier it becomes to address the behavior.

Remember that a calm person is far more likely to be successful than one who is out of control. Responding in a reactive, emotional way is unproductive, so it is best to de-personalize the person’s actions as a start.

Address the behavior immediately, don’t ignore it

Speaking to a colleague about their behavior is difficult, but when you ignore or avoid the issue, you are in effect condoning it. Here are a few tips:

  • Initiate a meeting or discussion with your colleague in an environment that makes them feel safe – preferably somewhere quiet so they don’t feel targeted and can speak openly with you. You might even consider having coffee outside of the work environment.
  • Emphasize the constructive nature of your intentions so that you keep your working relationship intact.
    • Ask open-ended questions like:
      • “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, and perhaps there has been some miscommunication along the way. Can we talk about what’s going on with us?”
      • “Let me understand what is happening for you.”
    • Be open and honest to facilitate a productive conversation. Don’t play the blame game, rather direct your colleague to a solution that you can both work towards. In this way, it is not one-sided, and your colleague will feel a part of the solution.
    • Don’t let them guess what it is that you are trying to say. Influence positive change by welcoming feedback and dialogue and encouraging two-way communication to head off passive-aggressive behavior.
    • Get them to tell you what they want and let them know that they are appreciated as your work colleague. Your colleague will feel valued by brainstorming together and working towards positive outcomes that will work for both of you.
    • Be direct and firm and make sure they feel rewarded for following through on agreed expectations—a win-win for both of you.

Think about the role you play in your co-worker’s behavior

My last point is around the role that you play in the situation. I often sit down, reflect, and take a good hard look at myself. Most people have passive-aggressive tendencies, but we aren’t aware of them.

Is there anything you are doing that could be fueling the behavior? It’s important to dissect why you may be acting in a certain way and then give yourself time to take steps towards change. Personally, this has been a refreshing change for me, and I have seen the benefits of this strategy.

Datis Mohsenipour

Datis Mohsenipour

Director of Marketing & Partnerships, Outback Team Building & Training

Having dealt with toxic colleagues in the past, I’ve found a few things to be helpful:

Assume positive intent

Naturally, your first instinct will be to get upset. Try your best to assume positive intent. Maybe your coworker has a unique sense of humor, and what you’re interpreting as “passive-aggressive” may just be their way of joking around.

It’s also possible that their comment had no negative intention at all, and you simply misinterpreted it.

Address the matter (privately)

If you’ve noticed a pattern of passive-aggressive comments from a colleague and you are certain that the comments were intended to be negative, have a conversation with your colleague.

Here are a few critical tips for having this uncomfortable discussion:

  • Avoid:
    • Calling your colleague out in front of others – I’ve made this mistake before. A colleague had made a passive-aggressive quip during a conference call, and I had reached my boiling point. I called out my colleague during the call, they instantly became defensive, and I made myself look unprofessional in front of other colleagues.
    • Addressing the matter via email– Emails are dangerous because they can easily be misinterpreted. It’s better to have this conversation face-to-face or over the phone.
    • Attacking your colleague – Avoid accusatory language when you bring this matter up. More often than not, your passive-aggressive coworker will act defensively, not empathetically.
  • Do:
    • Give examples – Highlight examples of passive-aggressive comments that your coworker made, mention how those comments made you feel, and ask if they were intended to make you feel the way you did.
    • Try to work with them to find a solution – Ask them if there is something you have done to upset them, and offer a solution. Oftentimes, toxic colleagues will feel more inclined to make a change if they feel like you are willing to make changes as well.
    • Ask for a solution – Once you’ve made it clear to your colleague that their comments are upsetting you, directly ask them if they can make a conscious effort to be mindful of such comments.

Get HR involved

If you’ve tried having a conversation with your colleague, the passive-aggressive behavior continues, and it is negatively impacting your mental health, have a conversation with your HR rep. This is a last resort solution.

Rowan O’Grady

Rowan O’Grady

President of US Operations, Frank Recruitment Group

Working with a passive-aggressive coworker can be draining to say the least. Not only can it give a knock to your confidence and make you feel uneasy, but it’s almost impossible to get them to admit that something is wrong, making it difficult to sort the issue at hand if there actually is a valid one.

Understand passive-aggressiveness

It’s not easy to do, but removing yourself from the equation and looking at the situation from your coworker’s point of view is important for understanding why they might be acting how they are, without asking them.

Most of the time, this is because they’re not as confident or confrontational. They might also be trying to manipulate you in a more subtle way. Bearing this in mind can make it easier to handle and to help you plan the next steps to sort the issue.

Don’t fight fire with fire

When you pander to a passive-aggressive person, their power over you and their drive to continue treating you like this grows.

Although it’s easier said than done, rising to their behavior and being passive-aggressive in return can further fuel the fire and make the situation even worse for yourself because it will show them that you’re successfully picking up on the hints they’re dishing out, meaning they’re more likely to do it in future.

Record examples and assert authority

When you’re running into a recurring problem at work, it’s always best to make a note of every instance it happens, detailing what was said or done, by who and when.

This means you’re able to give actual examples of your coworker’s behavior, whether to them directly or to a manager. Speaking privately to your coworker can show them that you’ve recognized their unacceptable behavior and are not afraid to challenge it directly, which can make them back off, especially if the reason for their attitude is to avoid confrontation.

Escalate the issue

Typically, if your coworker feels they are being called out on their behavior they will stop. However, if you’re still struggling with their passive-aggressiveness, it’s wise to try to distance yourself as much as possible in the work environment and let them know that you will be taking it further.

Bringing in an impartial party to the situation like an HR department means they’re able to bring in any disciplinary measures, without any bias, as and when they’re required.

Adam Fard

Adam Fard

Founder & Head Of Design, Adam Fard’ UX Agency

Communicate with the individual

At times, passive-aggressive individuals are unaware of the harm they are creating. By remaining silent, you are condoning their behavior and allowing your own wellbeing to be disregarded.

When communicating with the individual, be candid about your wants and emotions while remaining kind. This enables you to feel heard, and they will appreciate your candor (and hopefully feel remorseful enough to be on better behavior in the future).

Present the situation objectively rather than accusing them

It’s difficult to want to assist someone who has been acting unprofessionally, but this is your opportunity to gain the upper hand. Present the situation objectively rather than accusing them — which may cause them to go on the defensive. Keep in mind that your objective is to handle the matter in a way that fits the needs of all parties.

The following are some phrases you may choose to use in your conversation:

  • “Could you please assist me with comprehending this?”
  • “I’m curious as to what you think about…”
  • “This felt… What are your thoughts on that?”
  • “I’m paying attention.”
  • “I appreciate your perspective. This is how I felt.”

The passive-aggressive individual desires to be heard but are unable to do so for whatever reason. Provide them with effective communication tools to help them create trust and address the main cause of the problem. The more at ease you can make them, the more receptive they will be.

Bina Patel, PhD

Bina Patel

Conflict Resolution and Organizational Health Specialist, Transformational Paradigms

Dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker can be quite annoying, sometimes more so than the bully who is confrontational. There is one primary way to manage a passive-aggressive colleague: As the individual on the receiving end, you have to be direct and display those behaviors.

Here are a few tips:

  • Listen to listen – Listen to their words and what they are trying to say. Pay attention to their non-verbal queues as well.
  • Be direct – Ask them to just say what they need to say instead of beating around the bush. Politely ask, “I am not sure what you are trying to say. Can you please say it directly?” The key is not to assume what they are trying to say. If you ask them to be direct, it scares them a bit! They are being passive-aggressive for one reason, they don’t know how to be direct and feel uncomfortable being in this position. So by you offering to be direct opens the door for them to say exactly what they mean (especially if it is negative).
  • Thank them for being direct – Rephrase what they are saying and let them correct you. Be patient and mindful of your tone. Keep control of your emotions. Again, you have the power to control this conversation. Don’t react because they may be looking for a (negative) reaction from you.
  • Respond – be direct in your response. Again be mindful of your tone and voice. Be in control of your emotions.
  • End the conversation by placing the responsibility back on them
    • “I really appreciate that you were able to be straightforward with me. I just want you to know that I am a very direct person. I would prefer that you and I just be direct with each other. I don’t do sugar-coating, or beating around the bush, and all that. I would really appreciate it if you could be direct with me. Do you think you can do that? I give you permission to be direct with me.”
    • This way not only is the responsibility on them, but you can empower them to be direct with you.

Sharon Terera

Sharon Terera

Organizational Psychology Professional | HR Expert, AfroLovely

Passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace is harmful to employee morale if left unchecked.

Here are six top ways to deal with a passive-aggressive coworker:

Exercise emotional intelligence

Passive aggressiveness is a symptom of a deeper underlying issue your coworker may be facing but unable to open up, so they end up acting up in a subtle manner.

So instead of losing your cool over such negative behaviors, manage your own emotions and empathize with your coworker. Emotional intelligence is the greatest diffuser of worker conflict in the workplace.

Remain calm and avoid feeding into it. Poor emotional reactions to passive-aggressiveness in the workplace will only fuel it.

Address the issue directly

Instead of also keeping this issue to yourself, approach your coworker confidently to discuss the situation. When you model assertiveness, they might also become confident to open up about anything affecting them.

Remember to have an open mind when talking to your coworker because your coworker may say things that you may not have noticed. Put aside your ego. Be assertive but also land them an ear; give them enough time to talk about the situation. The conversation should be in private and ask direct questions.


Don’t be ignorant of your own work behavior. Before you begin to judge your coworker, assess your own actions.

It is common to hurt other people without even knowing. Look into yourself to check if you have been more supportive or objective of your coworkers’ ideas. It is easier to address the situation when you know how you contributed to it.

Be approachable

It is easier to avoid workplace conflict when you take intentional steps to build relationships with coworkers. They will respect you and trust you enough to share any work issues they might be experiencing. If you are a leader, try to have an open-door policy.

When your coworkers know that they can approach you for anything, they will not practice harmful work behaviors such as passive-aggressiveness.

Establish your boundaries

While it is important that you do not lash out at your passive-aggressive coworker, it is also vital to let them know that you will no longer tolerate their behavior.

Let them know that you will be approaching management for help if they continue harming you in that way. You have the right to feel psychologically and emotionally safe in the workplace, so when you become to feel unsafe, know that its time to install those tight boundaries,

Call for help

If the behavior continues for a long time and your coworker is not showing any signs of stopping, report the issue to your supervisor. A neutral party might be able to get to the root of the problem. Don’t allow the situation to drag for a long time because it will mentally drain you.

Steve Anevski

Steve Anevski

Co-Founder, Upshift

Empathize and redirect

Always try to find the underlying motives of your colleague when they exhibit such behavior. They might get to feel superior by putting others down. To take revenge or compensate for their anger, they might gossip, complain, and play being the victim around.

There is a simple way out of this: to distance yourself from the dynamic while keeping the relationship intact.

First, empathize with your coworker by acknowledging their reaction and then encourage them to look for a solution. Sometimes people gossip just to feel heard or valued. Therefore, empathizing with them and redirecting them with solutions is one of the ways of dealing with passive-aggressive colleagues.

Get your emotions under control

Sometimes, difficult coworkers can hijack your emotions. This can cause you to think and act irrationally sometimes, which can result in an unhealthy situation. Although easier said than done, try your best to de-personalize the passive-aggressive person’s actions.

However, if you do feel triggered by their actions, the following are some of the techniques you can apply:

  • Box Breathing – This will help in easing out the body stress response and bring out your prefrontal cortex back online. With this technique, slowly breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for another four counts, breathe out slowly for another four, and then hold your breath for another four. Repeat the entire process.
  • Journal Writing – This technique will help you externalize your thoughts and emotions, or you can also talk to a trusted friend or family member. Simply labeling what you are feeling can have a powerful calming effect.

Debbie Winkelbauer

Debbie Winkelbauer

CEO, Surf Search

Don’t play their game

A passive-aggressive person may not have your best interest in mind. Their goal knowingly or unknowingly is to trigger you to lose your calm or act out of character and therefore implicate yourself.

No matter how frustrated you are by this person’s actions, you must remain aware of their goal, and this awareness must guide all your interactions.

Join with them

Often, people are passive-aggressive because they don’t know how best to communicate their ideas, frustrations, or concerns. Hard as it might be, try to see beyond their attitude to understand what your colleague is trying to communicate.

Related: How to Stop Being Passive Aggressive

You don’t have to guess, of course; in fact, you should ask but in a non-aggressive way. I always recommend my coaching clients take to pick up at least one thing you agree with them. You don’t have to agree with their toxicity; but, you can try to build rapport to encourage them to speak out their true concerns.

You might say something like: “I think you made a good point in the meeting about our sales conversions. If I understood you correctly, you said…”

As you can see, you aren’t fighting fire with fire as they expected you would, and your diplomacy (not to mention class) will definitely catch them off guard.

Do your job well

A passive-aggressive person will wait for you to drop the ball and milk this situation dry to show you are the problem. By meeting your deadlines and achieving set goals, you can disempower the passive-aggressive.

If you must work together, try as much as you can to do so in a group setting where the passive-aggressive can be held accountable and feel less inclined to bully you or any other person.

If working in a group is not an option, consider putting everything in writing, i.e., each of your responsibilities, deadlines, expectations, and outcomes, to avoid gaslight or evading responsibilities, typical passive-aggressive traits.

If all else fails, try as much as you can to minimize your interactions with this person. There is no need to be passive-aggressive yourself; maintain your professionalism and avoid the toxic individual.

Elene Cafasso, MCC

Elene Cafasso

Leadership Development Expert | Executive Coach | President, Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching

Openly name their behavior and the impact – calmly, professionally, and without malice

The best approach for passive-aggressive coworkers is to openly name their behavior and the impact – calmly, professionally, and without malice. Once you shine a spotlight on the proverbial “elephant in the room,” you’ve moved their actions from passive/hidden and put responsibility for the behavior right where it belongs – on them.

This is especially effective in team settings when others are around. It’s not designed to shame the person. Rather you are setting a boundary and letting them know that their approach is not ok.

Let’s say Tom rolls his eyes, makes a snarky comment, or does something else to undermine your message after you’ve presented on a topic. Address it directly by saying:

“Tom, your behavior leads me to believe you have something to say about my recommendation. What is it?”

Or Sue may reserve the shared conference room for days at a time, so everyone else is unable to use it for annual performance review conversations. Try this approach:

“Sue, you’ve reserved the shared conference room for 24 hours despite having only five people on your team. When will you release the 19 hours you don’t need?”

If her answer is unacceptable, let her know that since it’s clear 19 hours are open, you’re going to book the time you need and assume she’ll work around it since she has too much flexibility in her scheduling. Then do so.

Assertively, calmly and directly stating what is clearly going on and not letting it interfere with your progress or delivery of business results is the best way to handle passive-aggressive coworkers.

Noelle Martin

Noelle Martin

Career and Workplace Editor, Mantelligence

Subtle acts of jealousy, your colleague saying they’ll do one thing but then does another; they pass you in the hallways without acknowledging you. They also seem to be quite disagreeable or irritable with your ideas and proposals.

Working with someone who is passive-aggressive can be difficult and frustrating. Do you speak up about the behavior? Or do you try to ignore it?

Here are ways to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers:

Don’t copy the behavior

Try to stay calm and positive. Don’t copy the behavior or lash out, as this could lead to more aggression. If you give in to this kind of behavior, you are only rewarding it.

Set clear expectations

When dealing with someone you know is passive-aggressive, make sure expectations are clear. If there is a project, make their responsibilities clear-cut and have them acknowledge their understanding of instructions. This will avoid any excuses later down the track that can reflect badly on you.

Call out bad behavior

You deserve respect, so you have the right to question or call out bad behavior. If allow it to continue, it’s unlikely anything will change.

Passive-aggressive coworkers may be trying to manipulate you, or they don’t know how to deal with their feelings. Speak to them privately and point out the behavior. Leave out the accusatory tone and state how you have interpreted their actions.

Encourage direct communication

Passive-aggressiveness could come from not knowing how to express feelings directly. Your coworker could be unsure of how to be upfront or are scared of confrontation.

Make it clear that you are open for them to connect with you. Practice healthy communication methods like listening attentively to their concerns or input, and express that you value their opinions. Use “we” to demonstrate that you are a team.

Passive-aggressiveness in the workplace can have a negative impact on productivity. It can also affect your mental health. It’s best to use communication styles that maintain open and respectful interactions that promote productivity and efficiency.

Sally Stevens

Sally Stevens

Co-founder, FastPeopleSearch

Sarcasm, thinly veiled jibes, passing the blame onto others, rejecting opinions from others, and silent treatment may seem normal in some workplaces, but they’re sure signs of a passive-aggressive colleague. Having one can be tiring and sometimes aggravating.

This calls for special ways to deal with such people, and here are two:

Don’t be sucked into their emotional whirlpool

Passively aggressive coworkers are best handled when you’re sane and thinking clearly. Being sucked into their anger, even though some of their comments may irk you, is an easy way for everything to degenerate into utter chaos.

Returning the favor by being passively aggressive doesn’t help matters either. Rather than salvage the situation, you may actually end up worsening the situation. Using a little sense will generally make things run better in such situations.

Change your communication culture

The way you communicate, as a company, ultimately determines how coworkers deal with each other. Passive aggressiveness tends to thrive in situations where there’s no clear regulation on how people communicate with each other.

Decimating passive-aggressiveness from your communication implies establishing some form of thresholds and standards on how your coworkers communicate with you. Following through on these standards will ultimately force the passive-aggressive coworker to shape up.

Ed Leake

Ed Leake

Founder, Adevolver

Establishing relationships in the workplace involves enjoying association with team members, but it can also require going through challenging situations with your coworkers. Sometimes, colleagues resort to passive-aggressive behavior when they are upset or unappreciated and unsure how to resolve their conflicts.

As a small business owner, I deal with my employees every day, and here are some tips on how to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers/employees:

  • Understand their motivation – Give your coworker the benefit of the doubt. There is always a reason why they are exhibiting these kinds of behavior. However, you do not have to feed the monster; you can understand them but not pity them.
  • Remove the reward – Some passive-aggressive coworkers do these because they feel good about it. Do not be an enabler because when they do not get the reaction they want from you, they will most likely stop.
  • Set limits and follow through – Be assertive on your standards and expectations for the people accountable. When you set a specific time in meetings, start on time regardless of who runs late.
  • Open-door policy – Passive-aggressive people are having issues with expressing themselves openly at work. Start offering different ways colleagues can bond. Encouraging good communication with your employees can deflect passive-aggressive patterns. Put the fire out before it even starts.

Edward Mellett

Edward Mellett


Address the situation directly

When you notice a coworker is being passive-aggressive, you may feel compelled to avoid interacting with them and their obnoxious demeanor.

Your passive-aggressive employee, on the other hand, can continue to demonstrate the same bad attitude without change if you don’t confront the subject immediately, and your company will still have to deal with the consequences of their behavior.

Plan how you’ll approach your coworker so they don’t feel targeted and can communicate freely with you to start a good dialogue.

For example, you could schedule a meeting with them in a conference room. Start by emphasizing your constructive goals, even if the passive-aggressive conduct has been tough to bear. You can explain why you find your coworker’s behavior disturbing and express sympathy if the coworker is dealing with a personal problem they haven’t shared with you.

Rather than explaining their passive-aggressive behavior in broad terms, focus on specific instances that you witnessed so that your dialogue can be focused on concrete exchanges.

Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson

Senior Employment Advisor, MintResume

Stay as calm as possible

Passive-aggressive coworkers will tend to continue to leave snide remarks if they think they have made you upset or emotional. They will start blaming you if you let your emotions get the best of you.

Try to understand where the passive-aggressive coworker is coming from

Trying to be the bigger person will make you feel more understanding and let you not get too affected by the passive-aggressive remarks of your colleague.

Schedule a direct talk with your colleague

Ensure that there will be someone to spearhead the conversation, perhaps HR or your supervisor, to mediate in case there will be heated arguments.

Brian Snedvig

Brian Snedvig

CEO, Jofibo

Don’t jump the gun with your assumptions

You could be misinterpreting a dry sense of humor, a language or cultural barrier, or simply the perceived negativity of textual communication.

It is important to give a coworker the benefit of the doubt in these situations because as soon as you call them out or bring it to the attention of a superior, you are formalizing your problem with this person, which will inevitably bring bad energy into the team.

Bear in mind that most of our interactions with our coworkers right now are via text, and it is very easy to read too much into written communication because it lacks so much of the nuance of face-to-face.

The next time you have an in-person or video meeting, compare how they communicate with you in this forum against anything you get from them in writing. You could avert jumping the gun and forcing a non-issue.

I have had to train myself over the years to be less reactionary with these kinds of interpretations, and I have found that in several instances, I perceived attitudes that weren’t actually there.

David Wurst

David Wurst

Owner and CEO, Webcitz

Don’t react to his actions

The best way to deal with a passive-aggressive co-worker is to not react to his actions. Letting aggressive people vent is sometimes the best way to cope with them. After all, being angry all of the time consumes too much energy, so they will ultimately cool down and become more reasonable.

You must, however, need to be vigilant. An argument can easily devolve into a physical altercation. When confronted by an aggressive person, keep your eyes and ears open for indications and study their body language.

Remove yourself from the situation as soon as you begin to feel threatened.

If your colleague begins to pursue you with the intent of continuing the argument, firmly stop them and walk away. It can require a lot of self-control to let go of a fight.

Lauren Cook-McKay

Lauren Cook-McKay

Director of Marketing & Content, Divorce Answers

Analyze the content behind the delivery

Consider whether your coworkers’ passive-aggressive behavior is the result of them being upset about a legitimate issue. If that’s the case, you should be more sympathetic to their behavior and try to understand why they’re having trouble solving their problem appropriately.

However, it can be difficult to link an incident to a person’s behavior, especially if you were not present at the time. As a result, avoid jumping to conclusions before learning more about the circumstance.

If you wish to talk to a manager about the problem, you can frame it as a concern for your coworker’s well-being and the team’s overall success. If you prefer to approach your coworker directly, ask if they’ve faced any difficulties that you can assist them with.

You might get direct or indirect hints as to why your coworker has turned passive-aggressive, and you might be able to help them figure out what’s going on.

Andrew Helling

Andrew Helling

Editor-In-Chief and Owner, Rethority

Call them out on their behavior

You should probably call them out on their behavior. They might not even realize how you’re reacting to their words. Some people are more direct in their communication than others.

While you don’t want to inflame the situation, you also don’t want to be the target of their relentless bombardment of ammunition; it would create a toxic environment.

Retaliate in a professional manner and inform them. Maintain your composure, and don’t take anything personally. If this person is passive-aggressive with you, it’s likely that he or she behaves the same way with others.

You can also ask for an explanation and turn the tables. Don’t put up a fight. Then confront the person privately.

Emma Williams

Emma Williams

Chief Research Officer, HIGH5

Don’t allow yourself to be offended

Dealing with someone who is passive-aggressive is tricky because of the
very nature of their aggression, which is largely hidden to an onlooker. Acting defensively could make you look like the aggressor, but of course, letting them continue is not going to stop it from happening again.

The best course of action is to first take a breath and not allow yourself
to be offended. The person’s behavior is a result of their personal issues and is not a reflection of you.

Next, you must be direct in addressing their behavior. Set boundaries and do not get drawn into a discussion or argument. Express your concerns and leave them there. Remember that you cannot control the behavior that follows, which may include storming off or verbal abuse.

Remain calm and composed and, if you can, empathetic.

If you need any more information, I’m happy to reply as soon as possible. I also provided my headshot if ever you’d want to use it. If you decide to use this — let me know, and I’ll promote the article via my channels.

Gian Moore

Gian Moore

Partner and Marketing Director, Mellowpine

Ask them what they’re trying to convey

I’ll ask them what their intentions are by such a passive act. I don’t like assuming they’re being rude (even if it is obvious) because they can deny it. Instead, by asking them what they’re trying to convey, it usually stops the passive aggressiveness because they’ll feel guilty they’ve been caught or simply tell me the real reason they’re frustrated or annoyed.

If you call out the passive part, then it loses its power, and the person feels dumb.

If they were being passive-aggressive to be rude, it stops that. But it also gives them a chance to speak up in the event that they were being passive-aggressive because they were afraid to say what they really wanted to say.

Another way I have sailed through such a situation: I dealt with a tech support woman, and no matter what I told her, she wouldn’t do it. One day, I saw her deal with a difficult customer. At lunch, as I was passing her station, I said I was going to the deli and did she want a sandwich. She said ‘no’ but thanked me for thinking of her. After that, anything I asked, she happily did.

Another thing: I like to cook, and go all out on a few dishes, really perfect them. A few times, I’ve brought “community meals,” sent out an email that there’s “Mac and Cheese in the break room.” After that, things “magically” get easier to get things done. It’s rarely a straight line to getting things done.

Anton Giuroiu

Anton Giuroiu

CEO and Founder, Homesthetics

Here are two ways to deal with a passive-aggressive coworker:

Don’t feed the behavior

Passive-aggressive people get gratified when you fall for their attitude and play right through their wants. This is why, if you want to deal with them correctly, you need to stop feeding their attitude.

Don’t talk back when they say something to provoke you. Remember that when you give them what they want, you are enabling them all the more.

Know that it isn’t about you

When it comes to dealing with a passive-aggressive person, you need to accept and know that their behavior has nothing to do with you.

It is within themselves, and they are like that to other people too. That being said, you might be better off ignoring the behavior altogether. Don’t take your encounters personally, and never let them affect you in any way.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the most common signs of passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace?

Passive-aggressive behavior can manifest itself in various ways, but some common signs include:

– Sarcasm or ambiguous compliments
– Intentionally procrastinating or delaying work
– Intentional exclusion from conversations or meetings
– Not expressing concerns or grievances directly
– Giving the “silent treatment” or ignoring work colleagues

How can I prevent passive-aggressive behavior on my team?

To promote a positive work environment and minimize passive-aggressive behavior, consider the following tips:

Encourage open communication: Hold regular team meetings and give team members an opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas.

Promote a supportive atmosphere: Encourage team members to help and show understanding for each other.

Address conflicts early: When conflicts arise, address them promptly and professionally.

Provide training: Offer team-building activities and communication training to help team members develop effective interpersonal skills.

Can passive-aggressive behavior be a form of workplace bullying?

Yes, passive-aggressive behavior can be a form of workplace bullying. Even if the behavior seems subtle or indirect, it can still create a toxic and stressful work environment.

Some examples of passive-aggressive behavior that can be classified as workplace bullying include:

– Deliberately ignoring, excluding, or avoiding certain people
– Whispering or gossiping in the presence of others, especially about a particular co-worker
– Making negative or sarcastic comments about the contributions or abilities of others during meetings
– Intentionally withholding critical information or delaying their response to requests
– Blaming others for mistakes or problems, whether subtle or overt
– Undermining or sabotaging colleagues’ efforts to succeed
– Engaging in backbiting, talking behind others’ backs, or spreading false information

While these behaviors may not always be classified as bullying, chronic or persistent exposure to them can have serious consequences. They can lead to lower productivity, lower employee morale, and higher turnover rates.

How can I help create a workplace culture that prevents passive-aggressive behavior?

To cultivate a workplace culture that prevents passive-aggressive behavior, try the following approaches:

Set a good example: Demonstrate respectful and direct communication and address conflicts in a constructive way.

Encourage a feedback culture: Create a safe space where employees can share their thoughts and feedback without fear of retaliation.

Recognize and reward positive behavior: Acknowledge and reward employees who demonstrate excellent communication skills and contribute to a positive work environment.

Offer training and resources: Offer workshops and training to help employees develop effective communication skills and conflict resolution strategies.

Should I ignore passive-aggressive comments?

Deciding whether you should ignore passive-aggressive comments depends on the situation and your relationship with the person making the comments.

In some cases, ignoring the comments may be the best solution to avoid fueling the situation or increasing tensions.

However, if the passive-aggressive behavior becomes habitual or has a significant impact on your work environment, it may be necessary to address the issue calmly and directly with the person involved.

In addition, you may consider discussing the situation with a trusted colleague, supervisor, or representative from HR for advice and support.

Do passive-aggressive people know they are?

Not always. In many cases, people who exhibit passive-aggressive behavior are unaware that their actions or words are passive-aggressive. They may see their behavior as a way to express themselves indirectly or to avoid conflict rather than as hostile or unproductive.

These individuals may find it challenging to communicate honestly or assertively and resort to passive-aggressive behavior to cope with stress or anxiety.

However, some people who exhibit passive-aggressive behavior are aware of their actions and use them intentionally to control or manipulate those around them.

In this case, passive-aggressive behavior can be a way to exert control or maintain power over others. It can also be a way to avoid responsibility for one’s actions or mistakes.

It is crucial to approach individuals with passive-aggressive behavior with empathy and compassion rather than assuming they are intentionally behaving this way.

In many cases, passive-aggressive behavior may be due to unresolved conflicts or communication problems that can be resolved through open and honest dialog.

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