16 Things passive aggressive people say

​Passive aggressive behaviour may well be the most frustrating of all communication problems. You know that the other person has a problem with you or, is angry about something but you can’t do anything to resolve the issue. The reason you can’t do anything to resolve the issue is because they don’t want to tell you what the issue is. And, how can you fix an issue you can’t define? That is exactly where passive aggressive people get their kicks.

Passive aggressive people don’t want to communicate with you on an equal footing. They want to manipulate and control you. Passive aggressive people understand that we are all vulnerable to our feelings and emotions and so, they behave in a way which allows them to manipulate your feelings. Nobody wants to feel bad, guilty or, as though they have wronged somebody else.  We also don’t want to feel as though we are the bad guy, that we are excluded or, that nobody else likes us.

By attempting to make you feel like this, manipulating your emotions, passive aggressive people know that they can then bend you and shape you as they wish. They can get you to do exactly what they want. to behave as they wish, just by pulling the right strings and pushing the right levers.

Even if you don’t do as they wish, they are still determined to have control over you. They feel angry, annoyed because they feel that they are not getting their way or, they are being disrespected. If they can’t get you to do as they wish, they are determined that they will make you feel even worse than they do. And so, the games begin.


​It must be noted that passive aggressive behaviour is a learned behaviour. There really is no such thing as a passive aggressive person, just people who use the behaviour. These people can change their behaviour, if they wish to do so. However, as the term ‘passive aggressive people / person’ is familiar to people, it is the term I will use throughout this article.

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Things passive aggressive people say

​The silent treatment is the most famous communication tactic of the passive aggressive person but they have many phrases they like to use too.The following list contains phrases which are commonly used by passive aggressive people. However, it should be noted that these ​phrases ​are not always passive aggressive. There may ben an honest, innocent reason for using the phrase. What you need to see is a pattern of speech and behaviour.

The following are some of the phrases you should be alert to:

​1. ‘I was only joking’

active friendly things passive aggressive people say

​One of the key objectives of passive aggressive people and their games is to transfer their anger onto you. Rather than express their feelings, they want to make you angry so that you look like the one who is unreasonable.

One of their favourite tools for doing this is sarcasm. They make an underhanded remark which is designed to cut at you, but they use a sarcastic tone to deliver the remark – as if it is some type of joke. If you show any negative response, they immediately emphasise that it was only a joke. They will do this in a way which portrays your response as completely unreasonable, hence you look like the bad guy.

Passive aggressive people know that this behaviour is made easier by the fact that we live in a world where it is often seen as ‘cool’ to insult people.

​Key point

​When dealing with passive aggressive people, it pays to understand what response they are trying to elicit from you. You can then find a way not to give it to them. It is usually easy to avoid getting angry with someone if you know that is the exact response they are looking for.

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​2. Why are you getting so upset?’ or ‘Why are you overreacting?’

battery leaks acid things passive aggressive people say

​This is a follow-on from the previous point. The passive aggressive person has scored their victory by projecting their anger on to you and, making you look unreasonable. Now, they want to hammer the point home.

They really want to play on the idea that you are overreacting and being unreasonable in your response. So, they act all innocent; as though they are completely shocked that you interpreted their simple statement / joke/ observation in the way that you did.

They may even go so far as to act hurt that you would think them capable of being mean or nasty. And, they are so good at it; you will end up doubting yourself. You may even believe that you did overreact.

​Key point

​This is where passive aggressive people are so nasty. After offending you, they will then act like the victim by making it seem that you (the actual victim) was the aggressor who instigated any conflict or negativity which has arisen.

​3. The fake invite

blessing lesson things passive aggressive people say

​The fake invite is something which passive aggressive people tend to deliver in the presence of others. The intention is to make it look to others as though you are friends. They want to give the impression to others that they are a kind-hearted person who truly cares about you.

So, they invite you to visit them or to go out for a drink some time etc. The invite really could be for anything as long as it seems like a nice gesture. However, the invite will usually be short on detail. There often won’t be any specific time frame e.g.:

  • ​We must go out for a drink sometime
  • ​You must come visit sometime

​However, should you ever try to make concrete arrangements, you are likely to run up against every excuse in the book. They have no intention of ever following through on these invites. The intention is simply to make a good impression in front of others so that when they instigate some future conflict, nobody would ever​ think they were capable of deliberately hurting you.

As an example, I had an old friend, who when his parents (friends of my family) were present, would invite me to visit him sometime. However, if I ever tried to call him, text him or email him, I would never get a response. When I realised what he was up to, I made sure not to fall into the trap by giving him any opportunity to instigate the conflict he was looking for.

​Key point

​An invite is not always an invite. If someone makes vague invites (especially in front of others) but never makes concrete arrangements, there may well be a passive aggressive intention behind the false invites.

​4. The fake request

bowling ball things passive aggressive people say

​When is a request not a request? Answer when you are not given the opportunity to say ‘No’. If you are not given that opportunity, then it is not request. It is an order or a demand. A request will always leave all options on the table. The person making the request has enough respect for you to leave the option for you to decline.

Passive aggressive people do not respect you. They expect you to do what they want you to do so, the option of declining is taken off the table. But as usual, this is not done in an open or transparent manner. Instead, they disguise their demand as a request, so that you can’t really accuse them of bossing you about.

My father has always been like this. He will ask you to do something and then walk away before you have an opportunity to answer. Then, if you don’t get to do it, he will try arguing that if you weren’t going to do it, you should have said ‘No’. He will even act as if you have really let him down.

​Key point

​If you are not given the opportunity to decline a request, then it was never really a request. It was a demand which was disguised as a request so that any negative response by you would seem live an overreaction.

​If you are not given the opportunity to decline a request, then it was never really a request. It was a demand which was disguised as a request so that any negative response by you would seem live an overreaction.

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​5. ‘Thanks in advance’

clouds things passive aggressive people say

​This could easily fall under the ‘fake request’ heading but it is a phrase you need to be careful with. I would argue that It is passive aggressive, but it is not always intended to be. So, before you offer any response, you need to consider the true intention.

Think about it for a minute. If you are thanking somebody in advance of them agreeing them to do something; you are telling them that you expect them to agree. You are removing the option of saying ‘No’, which is exactly what passive aggressive people like to do.  Again, if you are not allowing them the opportunity to decline, you are making a demand.

The reason I say that you need to be careful is that it has become quite a common phrase in modern times and it appears to be polite. While many people using the phrase are being passive aggressive, there are also many who don’t ​realise the message they are communicating and; they think that they are being polite.

​Key point

​Some phrases appear to be polite when they are actually intended to state an expectation. It is important though to distinguish between the passive aggressive people who are using a phrase and, those who are genuinely trying to be polite.

​6. ‘You’re so fussy / demanding’

communication things passive aggressive people say

​Remember that passive aggressive people always seek to give the impression that they are reasonable and helpful; while making you look like the one with the problem.  One of the situations where they cause the most problems for you is when they agree to do something for you.

They don’t want to do what you ask of them and, they may even resent you for asking. But, rather than say ‘No’ they see it as an opportunity to mess with your head. They agree to the task but the put the bare minimum effort in; even resorting to deliberately making mistakes on occasion.  If you have the audacity to question the standard to which the task was completed, you are likely to experience some of the following:

  • ​They will act hurt and offended as they insist that they were only trying to help you
  • ​You will be told that you are too fussy
  • ​The will claim that you didn’t clearly explain what you wanted

​You really can’t win. Asking passive aggressive people to help you is a recipe for disaster so, if you can avoid it, do so. If you must deal with them, keep a record of all communication and, use email if possible. When passive aggressive people realise that you are keeping records, they are more reluctant to act up.

​Key point

​Asking passive aggressive people to help you can lead to a lot of problems and, if possible, you are better off avoiding it.

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​7. ‘I didn’t realise you were in a rush’

consequences things passive aggressive people say

​So, you have asked someone to do something for you and, they have agreed. When you check back in, they haven’t even made a start. Naturally, you inquire as to why they haven’t done what they agreed to do and, you get a response along the lines of:

  • ​‘I didn’t realise you were in rush’
  • ​‘Oh, you meant now?’
  • ​‘What’s the hurry?’

​They knew what you wanted and, they agreed to it, but deliberate procrastination is one of the favourite tools of passive aggressive people. They know how irritating it is when somebody doesn’t keep their word.

Of course, they present a different argument. They want to make your behaviour seem unreasonable so, they subtly put the blame on you by suggesting that they problem is that you are being impatient, not that they are procrastinating. They may even hint that your time management is the problem and, it is causing you to place unrealistic expectations on them.

As always, they may act hurt, suggesting that they are only trying to help you so, your impatience is more than a little unfair.

​Key point

​It’s another one of those cases where you need to avoid being reliant on passive aggressive people. They may agree to do something, but they have no intention of making it easy for you.

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​8. 'Fine / Whatever/ OK then’

introverts things passive aggressive people say

​This is another case where passive aggressive people ​may not necessarily be motivated by nasty intentions. It is often a case of them not being comfortable speaking their mind so, they use non-verbal communication to get their point across.

There is nothing wrong with any of these phrases until you take the tone and body language into account. These are phrases where people rarely mean what they say. They expect that their tone will register their disapproval with the situation and, make you feel like you are bullying them into something.  It is often akin to saying:

‘I suppose I will have to go along with it because there is no point trying to argue with you.’

These are the type of people who are passive in nature and will claim that they never get to have their say or, express their opinion. But when you ask them:

‘Did you try to make your feelings known?’

They will come up with a list of excuses, all of which can be translated as ‘I didn’t make any effort.’

These people often don’t mean any harm. They just need a little coaxing to help them develop confidence in expressing their feelings to you. It’s not necessarily easy but if you can do it, it is worth the effort.

​Key point

​Some people just are not comfortable expressing their feelings and rely on non-verbal communication to get their point across. As irritating as it is, when you attempt to work with them, many of these people become more confident in their communication and begin to drop the passive aggressive behaviour.

​9. ‘I thought you had been told’

look away things passive aggressive people say

​Another sneaky little tactic of passive aggressive people is to withhold information. They are supposed to let you know about something, but they magically fail to pass the information on. While anyone can forget, the regularity with which passive aggressive people do so is quite staggering.

But how do you make a convincing argument that someone deliberately withheld information? There is simply no way to prove it and, passive aggressive people know this. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.

They know, that you know, they were very deliberate in their actions. They also know that there is nothing you can do about it.

​Key point

​If somebody does you wrong, it is usually very easy to take action but when passive aggressive people deliberately fail to pass on important information, it is difficult to deal with because you can’t even prove it was intentional.

​When passive aggressive people deliberately fail to pass on important information, it is difficult to deal with because you can’t even prove it was intentional.

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​10. ‘You know what I am like’

loudest weakest things passive aggressive people say

​When passive aggressive people treat you badly and, want to make your annoyance seem unreasonable, they will often lay the blame at your feet by arguing that you are being unreasonable in your expectations of them. They argue that you should understand their character and personality, while understanding that there is no malice.

That may seem confusing, so I will illustrate with an example.

When I was younger, there was a group of us who used to hang out together. I would regularly find out that the other lads had parties or, nights out where I hadn’t been invited. It would always turn out that the same person (the guy who loves the fake invites) was supposed to tell me but, he forgot.

His argument would be that ‘I forgot; you know what I am like’; making it seem that I was being unrealistic for expecting such a forgetful young man to keep me informed. I was gullible enough to believe him at first until I started noticing the inconsistencies, example:

  • ​The frequency with which he forgot me
  • ​I was the only one he ever forgot
  • ​When we were in social situations, he had an amazing ability to remember embarrassing old stories about me and subtly drop them into conversations so, his memory wasn't that bad.

​It should be noted that he probably had good reason to be annoyed with me as I wasn’t always the nicest teenager but, there was no chance of resolving the situation if he was insistent on taking the passive aggressive approach.

​Key point

​It doesn’t matter what your personality, or somebody else’s is like. It does not excuse bad behaviour. Any attempt to justify treating you badly with ‘you know what I am like; should be viewed with suspicion.

Any attempt to justify treating you badly with ‘you know what I am like; should be viewed with suspicion. Even if they are being genuine, they know what they are like too but they have chosen to do nothing about it.

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​11. ‘You did your best with…’

loyal person things passive aggressive people say (11)

​The old back-handed compliment is another famous tactic of passive aggressive people. They may argue that you did your best with:

  • ​Your education
  • ​Your skills
  • ​Your knowledge
  • Your education
  • Your looks
  • Whatever you had available to you

​They are not really looking to compliment your performance, they are really insulting your education, your skills etc.  i.e. whatever followed ‘with’ in the insincere compliment.

It may also be phrased as ‘You did great considering…’

What passive aggressive people are saying here is that they wouldn’t expect much from you because you haven’t got much to offer. Of course, if you pick them up on the insult, they will ignore the insult and focus on the small part of the statement which was presented as a compliment. It will be your fault for adopting a negative interpretation which was never intended.

​Key point

​The back-handed compliment is vicious. It is a well-designed put down where passive aggressive people can argue that it was intended as a compliment but, your negative attitude towards them led you to adopt the worst possible interpretation.

​12. Fake concern

mask things passive aggressive people say

​I once had an aunt of mine walk over to me in the local café and say the following:

‘I’m just saying this because I care about you, but you have put on a lot of weight recently’

Charming. She made sure she said it loud enough for the surrounding tables to hear it. I felt she was looking for me to get angry in front of everyone, but I wasn’t going to fall for that. Instead. I calmly gave her a two-word response:

I have’

With a disappointed look on her face, she had another go:

‘For the sake of your health, you should do something about that’

Again, I just gave her a two-word reply:

‘I will’

With that, she realised she wasn’t getting anywhere and left.

You might easily think that she was genuinely concerned about my health, but you must consider the context. Who, in their right mind, would express genuine concern like that in the middle of a crowded café, for everyone to hear? If she was in anyway sincere, such a conversation would have taken place in private.

In fact, she got some stern looks from fellow customers as she left which wasn’t exactly the reaction she was hoping for.

​Key point

​Passive aggressive people will often attempt to disguise an attack as genuine concern. While you obviously don’t want to fall for it, you must remember that they are looking for an angry reaction from you. Choose the other path and, stay calm. You can even agree with them for the hell of it.

​13. ‘I’m not mad’

negligence things passive aggressive people say

​If someone is telling you that they are not mad, they usually are but don’t want to admit to it. There are times when people use this phrase where they realise that they are mad about something silly so, they are just trying to let it go and move on. This is not the case with the passive aggressive person.

The passive aggressive person doesn’t want to acknowledge why they are mad. There may be a number of reasons for this:

  • ​They don’t know how to explain their anger
  • ​They feel that you are responsible and want you to suffer

​Either way, by claiming that they are not mad, they are trying to manipulate and control you. The intention is that you will do whatever they want you to do in order to gain their forgiveness. As most people don’t enjoy feeling guilty, it can be very hard to stand up to this type of behaviour; even when you know what they are playing at.

​Key point

​They are not trying to convince you that they are not mad at you. They want you to know. It just a game whereby they know you are likely to behave as they wish in order to have your approval again.

​14. The false agreement

pleasantry things passive aggressive people say

This is another typical case of passive aggressive behaviour whereby the passive aggressive person tells you something which is the opposite of what they actually mean. When you ask them to do something for you, they may reply with on of many phrases, including:

  • ​​‘Sure, I’d be happy too’
  • ‘Absolutely, I will make sure that gets done’
  • ​​‘Yes, I’ll do that'

Their response will be just what you want to hear but as always, it is not the words that matter. The meaning behind the combination of words, tone and body language is more important. What they are really telling you is that they are not going to do it. But as passive aggressive behaviour is a repeated behaviour, the person who uses it gets better as they get more practice.

You will be sure that you can count on them until the deadline for getting the work done passes and, nothing has been done. If you challenge them, they will have some ready-made excuse prepared. So, if you get angry, they will do everything to make your anger look unjustified. Again, they get to project their anger on to you and claim the moral victory.

The obvious alternative is to realise that you can’t trust them. You then avoid asking them for help again. Be prepared though, they will enjoy telling others how they would be happy to help you if only you took the time to ask.

​Key point

The more sinister passive aggressive person wants to play with your head. With this type of tactic, they aim to make you doubt who you can trust, by letting you down when you really need the help. It is also a clever way of undermining you in front of others as you only find out there is a problem at the last minute; when others can see it too; leading to the belief that you are a poor organiser.

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​15. ‘If that’s what you want’, ‘Please yourself’, ‘I hope it’s worth it’

roller coaster things passive aggressive people say

​These phrases are not all the same, but they are similar. In each case , the passive aggressive person does not agree with the option you have chosen and, they want you to know. However, as usual, they have no intention of saying it straight out.

It is easy to think that the issue is just that they disagree with you and, they think you should do what they want you to do. If this is the case, they are trying to make you feel guilty about letting them down, with the aim of manipulating you into changing your mind.

However, the problem can be deeper than that. These phrases are often used because they resent the fact that you have the courage to choose the option which is right for your and, follow through on it.  

Approval seeking is one of the biggest problems in modern society and, in these instances the passive aggressive person feels unable to take action unless they have the approval of others. They then resent the fact that you are willing to do what is right for you, regardless of what others may think about it.

​Key point

​The passive aggressive person aims to get what they want in life by controlling and manipulating others. Any instance where you demonstrate that you are capable of thinking and acting independently of them, and/or others, is likely to set them off.

​16. Picking holes

shoes things passive aggressive people say

​Undermining you and your work is a favourite tactic of the passive aggressive person. They want to attack your confidence by pointing out mistakes you have made. They will often do this in the presence of others for the maximum effect.

Of course, their attack will be dressed up as constructive feedback and will contain gentle phrases such as:

  • ​‘I am curious’
  • ‘That surprised me’
  • ​‘This confused me a little’

​They will make it seem like they are pointing out a small problem, but it may be that they have spotted a bigger problem and, they are just pointing others in the right direction to see that bigger problem for themselves.

Alternatively, they may pick so many small holes in the work that your work looks shoddy. Of course, if they can pick a lot of holes in the work, then the work probably was shoddy. However, it is the way they point the problem(s) out that is the problem.

The same approach will often be used to tear your ideas apart too.

​Key point

​If you work with someone who uses passive aggressive behaviour, you need to be extra careful checking the quality of your work and ideas, before you present them.

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Passive aggressive behaviour is incredibly frustrating to deal with. If you are on the receiving end, you are confused and irritated as you try to figure out what the problem is and, how you are going to deal with it. Worse than that, you may struggle to recognise the passive aggressive behaviour when you first see it. The quicker you recognise it, the quicker you can determine the correct course of action to move forward. The passive aggressive person doesn’t’ make it easy for you to deal with the problem but just realising what their game is, can give you a major step up in dealing with it.