CAREER COACH: Dealing with passive and aggressive behaviour at workplace


By Parrots Media Career Specialist,


Passive-aggressive behaviour takes many forms, but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behaviour. Put simply, it’s where you are angry with someone, but do not or cannot tell them.

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Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed, you may instead bottle the feelings up. Perhaps you shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue, or not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

What is Passive-aggressive behaviour?
A passive-aggressive might not always show that they are angry or resentful. They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath, there may be manipulation going on – hence the term ‘passive-aggressive’.

Passive aggression is a destructive pattern of behaviour that can be seen as a form of emotional abuse in relationships that bites away at the trust between people.

It’s a creation of negative energy ‘in the ether’ which is clear to those involved and can create immense hurt and pain for all parties. It happens when negative emotions and feelings build up and are then held in on a self-imposed need for either acceptance by another, dependence on others, or to avoid even further arguments or conflict.

If some of this is sounding familiar, don’t worry, we all do some of the above from time to time. It doesn’t necessarily make us passive-aggressive, nor does it mean your partner is. Passive aggression is when the behaviour is more persistent and repeats periodically, where there are ongoing patterns of negative attitudes and passive resistance in personal relationships or work situations.

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Passive aggressive behavior at workplace

Passive aggression in the workplace
In the workplace, a passive-aggressive employee or employer may use these techniques as a form of control and/or intimidation. The worker might sulk, make faces, scowl inwardly when given jobs to do or may agree politely and then take ages to do them. By doing so, they are showing annoyance in the hope they will not be asked to do those tasks again.

Employers can also use passive aggression when confronted with employee problems, turning a blind eye, not facing facts or dealing with genuine cases of bullying and intimidation. This avoidant behaviour can be very damaging to individuals and teams of individuals within organisations.

Passive aggression in the workplace can divert focus from the organisation’s objectives and negatively impact office morale.

Managers and Leaders must recognise and control Passive and Aggressive behaviours in the workplace to build a more productive and positive organisational environment .

Here are a few reasons why passive aggressive behaviour in the workplace occurs, potential causes, and how it can be addressed.

Much of what goes on at work triggers strong feelings. Promotions, raises, and public recognition of achievements often spark complex emotions surrounding personal or professional goals, self-worth, and self-esteem.

To complicate matters, professional communication is nuanced; there is no safe outlet for some feelings. Honest responses or candid evaluations may at times feel inappropriate and can even violate workplace policies. As a result problems flourish without solutions.


Passive aggression can disrupt a productive environment and if left unchecked, can lead to an influx of harmful, extreme, and entirely unprofessional behaviours such as gossip, sabotage, and retaliation.

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If you’ve encountered the following behaviours from colleagues at work, you’ve dealt with passive aggressive behaviour:

Ignoring proper channels in the workplace to deal with issues and instead, utilising dysfunctional methods (gossip, spreading rumours, constant complaining)

Calling out of work on the day of a presentation–sabotaging collaborative efforts.
Relying on continual, plausible excuses to avoid taking on certain responsibilities.

Other tell tale signs of passive aggressive behaviour include: Sarcasm, Silent treatment, Withholding of praise, Criticism, Sabotage, Consistent unreliability: being late and non-responsive.

The INFOGRAPHIC below depicts 8 ways to STOP Passive Aggressive Behaviour at Workplace .

Passive aggression behavior at workplaces

I hope the post has helped you identify and deal effectively with passive aggressive behaviour at your workplace .

What kind of passive aggressive behaviour do you face in your workplace ?Please share your thoughts below

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