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One of the most irritating things you’ll ever have to deal with in your workplace is a passive-aggressive coworker.
We’ve all seen this behavior before--and perhaps been guilty of it at some point:
Think of the coworker who doesn’t say hello when he sees you in the hallway. When you write him an email to ask for important deliverables, he doesn’t respond. He even actively undermines you but acts like nothing’s wrong when you confront him.
Sadly, this type of behavior is more common than you think.
As a below-the-radar technique for expressing discontent, it’s one of the preferred methods for venting anger in the workplace--just short of crossing a red line and risk getting fired.
According to Signe Whitson, author of the book The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces, workplaces are fertile ground for this sort of behavior because the direct expression of emotions and thoughts is not only not welcomed, it can be downright unprofessional in many cases.
Imagine confronting this infuriating behavior by calling your coworker a “passive-aggressive” or, worse still, a “jerk”? This wouldn’t go over too well, to say the least.
To help you root out passive-aggressive behavior in your workplace (and find out if you’re secretly a passive-aggressive yourself), we’ve visualized a list of warning signs and tips in the form of an interactive infographic and quiz.
Whitson defines passive-aggressive behavior as a “deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger.”
In a sense, it’s the perfect workplace crime because it allows employees to intentionally and underhandedly sabotage productivity and imperil others’ success through justifiable actions--and do it without leaving incriminating evidence.
For example, if a coworker secretly believes that you’re lazy and incompetent, he can take revenge or vent his pent up anger by purposely procrastinating, doing a shoddy job or withholding information from you--and then blame it all on some “miscommunication” or getting sick.
Many employees are guilty of some form of passive-aggressiveness, so before you’re quick to label your colleague as such, think for a second if you exhibit any of these tell-tale signs of this destructive behavior:
There are many reasons why the workplace is the perfect breeding ground for passive-aggressive behavior, according to Whitson:
Perceptions of self-worth
If you think this type of behavior is “all in your head” or just petty stuff, think again. Passive aggressiveness can actually erode or even destroy a company’s culture.
Entrepreneur Amy Rees Anderson shares her first-hand account of the spread of this cancer throughout a once-promising company.
First, it started with several passive-aggressive members of upper management. Then, it spread to lower-level employees. Those who were once true believers in the company’s long-term goals eventually became 9 to 5ers who were hanging on just to pay the bills until they could find something better elsewhere.
Meanwhile, those in leadership kept up the tune that “everything was going great” even when they knew it wasn’t. Slowly, this lack of honesty and respect started to permeate the entire company, affecting morale and lowering the level of engagement of its employees.
The key to eliminating the scourge that is passive aggressiveness in your workplace starts with you. First, examine your own actions to see if you exhibit any of these behaviors, and then find ways to spread this same mindfulness to others within your organization.
Whitson recommends taking these basic steps to rooting it out:
Don’t copy the behavior.
Set clear expectations.
Call out the behavior when you see it.
Make room for dissent.
Encourage direct communication.
Face the fear of confrontation.
Practice assertive communication.
By practicing each of these consistently and respectfully, you're bound to see a vast improvement in your workplace relationships.
Remember, the key to a healthy corporate culture is honest, open communication that doesn't necessarily promise a conflict-free environment, but does allow pent-up anger or frustrations to find a constructive outlet.
Do you recognize any of the warning signs in your organization or workplace? If so, don't forget to share this with your friends and peers.