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5 Tricks To Spotting And Dealing With Passive-Aggressive Behavior

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There are many different types of difficult people out in the world, and passive-aggressive types are some of the most challenging to deal with.

Passive-aggressive behavior is often coupled with resentment and stubbornness along with a deeply embedded desire to be right all of the time.

This type of person will fight to the very end to prove themselves right, even when they know they are wrong, but the way they fight is indirect and confusing. It might be a backhanded compliment, an evil stare, or the dreaded silent treatment.

How To Recognize Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive people express their negative feelings in an indirect manner, so you may not recognize them right away. It won’t take you long, though, because passive-aggressive personality types are quite hostile in a unique way. In fact, in many respects they are similar to a young child who doesn’t get his way. Here is how to recognize one.

1. They Disguise Criticism With Compliments

When you first interact with a passive-aggressive person, they may come across as pleasant and friendly. They may even compliment you, and they are generally pleasant to talk to. It is only after they leave that you realize the compliment was actually a hidden jab. You may even hear from a mutual friend that the person has been making fun of you or spreading rumors behind your back.

2. They Secretly Sabotage You

Passive-aggressive people try to mislead you so that they can sabotage you. They may tell you “sure, I’ll get that done,” when they have absolutely no intention of doing it. They may be late on purpose just to make you miss something or look bad.

3. They Give The Silent Treatment

Passive-aggressive people love to give the silent treatment. With most people, silence typically signifies agreement, but not in the case of passive-aggression. You may ask “what is wrong?” but you will only get an answer of “nothing” when you both know there is certainly something wrong. A passive-aggressive person would rather punish you with silence than tell you what is actually upsetting them.

4. They Always Think The World Is Against Them

Every time something doesn’t go their way, passive-aggressive people will complain that they are being attacked. Everything is unfair and an injustice. The world is out to get them. Everyone is working against them.

5. They Are Often Sarcastic

Sarcasm is often a passive-aggressive person’s favorite weapon. They pretend they are joking when they clearly are not. They tease others or put them down and then try to soften the blow with a “just kidding.” Sarcasm is an indirect way of saying exactly what they really mean without having to take ownership.

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How To Deal With Passive-Aggressive People

Passive-aggression can be challenging to deal with. People may act this way because they are feeling insecure or don’t have high self-esteem. Alternatively, they may just be frustrated and not know how to deal with their emotions in a productive manner. Either way, passive-aggression cannot be tolerated. Here is how to deal with the behavior when you spot it.

1. Identify The Behavior As Hostile

Passive-aggressive behavior is hostility. It may not be direct, but it is still aggressive and hostile behavior. Don’t sugar coat someone’s passive-aggressive behavior just because they are not actively throwing punches. If you are lenient and give in, you quickly teach that person that is okay to treat you with passive-aggression. In the same way you wouldn’t tolerate an outright verbal attack, do not tolerate an indirect one.

2. Set Limits And Follow Through

When you are dealing with passive-aggressive people, you have to set limits with them (similar to how you would set limits with a young child). Make it abundantly clear that you will not tolerate this childish form of aggression. Then, follow through. For example, let the person know that the next time they are late, you are going to leave without them. And then do it. You don’t have to be rude or derogatory. Just be firm.

3. Give The Passive-Aggressive Person An Opportunity To Solve The Problem

Many times, a passive-aggressive person will act the way they do because they do not believe they are being heard. When you can, seek their input. Ask them how they would handle the problem. Maybe they will surprise you and come up with a great solution. If they fall into another pattern of passive-aggression or negativity, don’t agree or disagree. Instead, say something like “I’ll keep that in mind,” and then move on. Over time, this approach may help turn the bad behavior around.

4. Realize That You May Not Be Able To Change Them

You can only help a passive-aggressive person change if they want to change. Otherwise, you are powerless to influence their behavior. Don’t spend too much of your energy attempting to rescue a relationship if they have no desire to change. You only have control of yourself and your reaction to their behavior.

5. Keep Your Cool

Passive-aggressive people are after a reaction, so don’t give it. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked in, even if it gets personal (which it often does). Don’t take the bait because that will only make them happy. Keep your distance when you can, and play it cool when you can’t. Laugh it off with humor or don’t respond at all. Whatever you do, don’t let the situation escalate. Move on.

It can be quite challenging to not take a passive-aggressive person’s behavior to heart. The attacks are often personal and hurtful. While you cannot change the person, learning a few simple tricks will help empower you to be the better communicator when these situations pop up, instead of buying into the drama. If you have to deal with a passive-aggressive person, take immediate steps to address and correct the problem.

About The Author

Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship.