Passive aggressive behaviour is a common and frustrating aspect of communication. Many people do not have the emotional or communication skills to accurately express their feelings. This becomes a problem when they disagree with something but are not prepared to voice their disagreement. We have all had situations where we know that somebody is disappointed with us but we feel helpless to solve the problem because they will not help us to identify the exact nature of the issue. If you want to establish yourself as a skilled communicator, you need to learn to deal with these situations i.e. you need to learn how to deal with passive aggressive behaviour.

The reason that passive aggressive behaviour is so hard to deal with is the incongruence of the message being sent by the passive aggressive individual. Verbally, they are sending one message but non-verbally, they are sending an entirely different message. You can’t accurately deal with a situation if you cannot establish exactly what that situation is. The first task, when you have to deal with passive aggressive behaviour, is to establish what the real situation is. To do that, you need to be able to open a dialogue with the passive aggressive individual but that is easier said than done. Just how do you deal with passive aggressive behaviour when that person does not want to tell you what the problem is and how they are really feeling?

​Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

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​8 Tips to help deal with passive aggressive behaviour

​It is not easy to deal with passive aggressive behaviour. In fact, at times it can be incredibly frustrating; to the point where you begin to feel angry. The following tips will help you to deal with passive aggressive behaviour whenever it arises:

1. Identify the behaviour

​Before you can deal with passive aggressive behaviour you have to identify that it is the behaviour being exhibited. Any time that you feel the other person is angry or upset but pretending that’s not the case; you are likely to be witnessing passive aggressive behaviour. Common signs include:

  • ​Sarcasm
  • ​Silent treatment
  • ​Gossiping

​You can click on the link to get more comprehensive examples of passive aggressive behaviour. Note that one of these behaviours alone may not be passive aggressive behaviour. However, if you trust your gut instinct, you will usually find that you are right.

2. Refuse to adjust your expectations

When you have to deal with passive aggressive behaviour, you may need to modify your behaviour and communication, ever so slightly. This is understandable. However, one thing you should not modify is you expectations. You should still expect to be treated with courtesy and respect and, if it is a workplace situation, the passive aggressive individual should be held to the same rules and expectations as anybody else.

Remember, any adjustment in your expectations or application of the rules due to passive aggressive behaviour will be seen as a victory by the passive aggressive person. You cannot reward passive aggressive behaviour like this because it will encourage more of the behaviour.

3. Manage your own emotions

Remember that when somebody adopts passive aggressive behaviour, they are trying to get back at you for something that they perceive you have done wrong. They are trying to elicit a reaction from you; usually they are trying to make you feel angry or guilty. Either way, they want you to feel like the bad guy so that you will change your mind/behaviour.

If you get angry, the situation can quickly escalate into something far more serious than it needs to be. Feeling guilty is also pointless as you won’t know what you are feeling guilty about due to the person not being prepared to tell you what you supposedly did wrong. Just like with the previous point, to back down without a constructive dialogue would be rewarding the passive aggressive behaviour.

When I have to deal with passive aggressive behaviour, I like to remind myself of the following:

‘I may have done something wrong to upset this person. I know that I did not intentionally do so. Conversation is a two way street and as such, the other person has a duty to inform me of what I did wrong and why it has upset them. Only then can we effectively resolve the situation. I am open to dialogue.’

​This helps me to maintain my calm and seek a peaceful resolution to the situation.

4. Be specific

need to be specific. Where the other individual is using vague language, use your communication skills to seek more specific information.

Communication breakdowns often occur because the two or more people involved have very different understandings about the same situation. By focusing on specificity you can ensure that you are both talking about the same thing. From there, it is much easier to identify an amicable solution.

5. Be assertive

While you want to resolve the situation, it is important that you do not allow yourself to be manipulated. If it turns out that you have done wrong, by all means apologise and rectify the situation. However, you should only do so once, through open dialogue, both parties have clarified what took place, what you did wrong and why it upset the other person.

Do not assume that you are in the wrong just because somebody is upset. If you are in the wrong, you will want to avoid repeating the behaviour. To do this, you need to know exactly what went wrong. So, stand your ground, use your assertiveness skills and with an open mind, explore the issue until you have a thorough understanding of what happened.

6. Call them out

To effectively deal with passive aggressive behaviour, both parties need to understand what is taking place and be on the same wavelength. I have already mentioned the need for you to identify the behaviour but the person exhibiting the behaviour also needs to understand that you can see what is happening.

Do not be afraid to point out that you see what is going on, e.g.:

  • ​‘You say you are ok with this but I can see that you are upset…’
  • ​‘You appear to be angry about …’
  • ​‘I have noticed that you are upset with …’

​When you call somebody out on passive aggressive behaviour and you demonstrate your desire to resolve the situation, this will often be enough to encourage the other person to drop the act and have an open and honest discussion.

7. Seek and value feedback

Passive aggressive behaviour occurs when, for whatever reason, the other person feels that they cannot freely express themselves. One way to counter this feeling is to actively seek feedback from them. Do not just seek feedback; be prepared to accept it where it is beneficial to do so.

When you show that you are willing to accept feedback, people are more likely to speak openly and honestly with you. While it can help to make your desire for feedback known when you have to deal with passive aggressive behaviour; you do not have to wait for these situations to arise. Seeking and valuing feedback should be an ongoing behaviour from any skilled communicator.

​Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

You can make a head start on tackling passive aggressive behaviour with my FREE Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour.

Get Your FREE Copy

8. Expect resistance

When you decide to deal with passive aggressive behaviour, you should expect some resistance. The other person may have been using passive aggressive behaviour as their preferred communication style for a long time. Others have probably rewarded this behaviour so they know that it can bring them the results they are looking for.

To counteract this, you need to demonstrate that they have nothing to lose by ditching the behaviour and starting to communicate in an honest and open manner. Like any major change, this can take time so be patient.

​Tackle Passive Aggressive Behaviour

​The key to dealing successfully with Passive Aggressive Behaviour is to understand exactly what you are dealing wiht and; choosing the most appropriate response.

'Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour' will teach you what you need to know to reclaim your personal power in these situations.



​Passive aggressive behaviour is a common communication style. However, it is a form of communication which is of no real benefit to either party. The  person who is upset denies themselves the opportunity to accurately express their feelings and the person on the receiving end of the passive aggressive behaviour cannot resolve the conflict as they are unaware of what has caused the issue. To deal with passive aggressive behaviour, honest and open dialogue is required. When this is achieved, the problem can be pinpointed and a solution implemented. To ensure that honest and open dialogue takes place, both parties need to do their part. The tips above will help you create an atmosphere conducive to open and honest discussion and deal with passive aggressive behaviour.


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