What is passive aggressive behaviour?

​Passive Aggressive Behaviour is one of the most commoin and infuriating communication styles. ​The behaviour is a learned behaviour which tends to wear the recipient down and force them to give in to the demands of the person employing the behaviour. What makes Passive Aggressive Behaviour so difficult to deal with is the fact that you are receiving conflicting messages and you must determine which message, if either, is the truthful message. It is only then that you can begin to resolve the issue. Like all problems, it is important to understand the nature of the problem before you can successfully deal with it. So,I have identified a number of excellent resources which will help you to answer one of the most common questions I receive - 'What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?'

​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.


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​What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?

​In order to understand the full extent of Passive Aggressive Behaviour, you need to look at it from a number of different viewpoints. There are a number or markers which can help you to identify the problem but it is important to remember that each situation is unique so don't jump to conclusions. 

Below, I introduce you to 5 diferent articles which will help you to gain a better understanding of Passive Aggressive Behaviour and give you some pointers for tackling the problem.

​1. Covertly aggressive

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​In her artilce for Psychology Today, Berit Brogaard, tells us how Passive Aggressive Behaviour is not overt aggression. In fact, overt aggression would be much easier to deal with as you know what you are dealing with. Unfortunately, with Passive Aggressive Behaviour, the clue is in the name. The aggression you are dealing with is usually hidden or, at least, subtle. It is very difficult to deal with aggression when you don't know why the ohter persion is behaving aggressively towards you.

" Most of us are good at spotting overtly aggressive people. While it doesn't feel good when someone insults, criticizes, or belittles you, at least you know why you are hurting. But sometimes the people around us, including our close family, friends, and colleagues, make us feel uncomfortable, but we cannot quite put a finger on why. For example, your colleague may fail to greet you in the hallway for the third time in a week. You make yourself believe that it is probably a slip, yet you feel that something is amiss.

If this happens frequently with one or more people in your life, you may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior, which is much harder to detect than overtly aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressiveness, as the word indicates, is a tendency to engage in indirect expression of hostility through acts such as subtle insults, sullen behavior, stubbornness, or a deliberate failure to accomplish required tasks."

​One point I would always make is that the majority of time that you are on the receiving of Passive Aggressive Behaviour, the other person does not necessarily want to hurt or upset  you. They just feel that they cannot communicate openly and freely with you. So, rather than just lay the blame at their feet; can you find a way to open up the channels of communicaiton and demonstrate that you are willing to communicate in a manner whcih is free from judgement and blame? If you can manage this; you can build a relationship based on openness, honesty and trust which allows the other person to drop the Passive Aggressive Behaviour.

​Re​lated article

​2. ​Inability to communicate anger

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​In her artilcle for Counselling Directory, Andrea Harrn tells us that Passive Aggressive Behavio​ur comes from the inability to express your anger. You just don't feel that you can do it so you attempt to register you anger in other, non-verbal ways. 

" Passive aggressive behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, 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. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

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"."

​While Andrea stresses that Passive Aggressive Behaviour can be overt or covert, and this is true; I woiuld always argue that you should assume that it is covert and unintended unless it is clear that the person is deliberately employing Passive Aggressive Behaviour. By giving others the benefit of the doubt, you will approach the situation with a less confrontational attitude which will maintain better relationships and command greater respect from most people. Where people are deliberately being difficult, it will quickly become obvious and you can then escalate the matter.

​T​alk so others listen

​The impact of Passive Aggressive Behaviour is greatly reduced when you talk clearly, concisely and effectiely. 'How to Talk So Others Will Listen' will teach you how.


​3. Incongruent messages

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​In an earlier article, I have written about how Passive Aggressive Behavior is incongruent. What you see is not what you are gettting. Due to the passive element of this communciation tactic, the other person will often speak as if they are calm and free from worries or problems. They may even tell you that they are happy with the very thing/situation which is actually upsetting them. It is only when you pay more attention to their body language that you realise that what you are seeing and what you are hearing are two very different things. This is when you need to remember that body language is usually more reliable than the words being used.

" Passive aggressive behaviour has various traits and many ways of disguising the way a person with this behavioural problem truly feels at any given moment. This type of behaviour is reactive and is identified by non-verbal aggressive actions or reactions. Anger and frustration is bottled up instead of being discussed in a proactive manner and the outlet is often negative, with an indirect method of communicating with others about the way you may be feeling. Let me put that in simpler language for you – there will usually be a giant mismatch between what the person says and, what their body language or tone of voice communicates.

Not all passive aggressive people display the aggressive side of their behaviour immediately. Many will keep a lid on how they feel, hiding the rage until it begins to further annoy them. Unfortunately when they do eventually begin to display the aggressive side of their behaviour, it can seem to be an overreaction and even out of context. This can make it very difficult to resolve the issue."

​If you are not being observant and paying attention to the subtle cues, you will fail to notice that they are upset or angry with you. By the time that they are more open and transparent about their feelings; you will be dealing with a much bigger problem. 

If you identify the issue early, you get to deal with a much smaller issue which can be resolved quickly and relatively stress free. That is why, regardless of the communication strategy adopted by others, you have a duty to give your all to each relationship and each communication; thus ensuring that you have the best opportuntiy possible to avoid conflict.

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​What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour? 5 Experts ​advise

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​4. Common symptoms

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​Jeffrey Kluger, in an article for Time, tells us that scientists cannot agree on whether Passive Aggressive Behaviour can be defined as a personality disorder, they can agree on the most common symptoms of the problem. Even with these common symptoms, it can still be difficult to identify the problem.

" Either way, passive-aggression is more than just the nettlesome habit of a few maddeningly indirect people. Clinicians differ on whether it qualifies as a full-blown personality disorder like, say, narcissism or paranoia, but they agree on the symptoms: deliberate inefficiency, an avoidance of responsibility, a refusal to state needs or concerns directly.

Passive-aggressiveness comes in varying degrees, which can make it tricky to know if you work, live or socialize with a passive-aggressor — or if you’re one yourself. The behavior is practically defined by its plausible deniability. "

Either way, passive-aggression is more than just the nettlesome habit of a few maddeningly indirect people. Clinicians differ on whether it qualifies as a full-blown personality disorder like, say, narcissism or paranoia, but they agree on the symptoms: deliberate inefficiency, an avoidance of responsibility, a refusal to state needs or concerns directly.

Passive-aggressiveness comes in varying degrees, which can make it tricky to know if you work, live or socialize with a passive-aggressor — or if you’re one yourself. The behavior is practically defined by its plausible deniability. So we’ve compiled seven of the most commonly reported ways passive-aggressive character traits can show up in your life:
Passive aggressive behaviour has various traits and many ways of disguising the way a person with this behavioural problem truly feels at any given moment. This type of behaviour is reactive and is identified by non-verbal aggressive actions or reactions. Anger and frustration is bottled up instead of being discussed in a proactive manner and the outlet is often negative, with an indirect method of communicating with others about the way you may be feeling. Let me put that in simpler language for you – there will usually be a giant mismatch between what the person says and, what their body language or tone of voice communicates.

Not all passive aggressive people display the aggressive side of their behaviour immediately. Many will keep a lid on how they feel, hiding the rage until it begins to further annoy them. Unfortunately when they do eventually begin to display the aggressive side of their behaviour, it can seem to be an overreaction and even out of context. This can make it very difficult to resolve the issue.
Passive aggressive behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, 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. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

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".

​Of course, if you are focusing on whether ​Passive Aggressive Behaviour constitutes a personality disorder or not, you are focusing on the wrong ​thing. At the end or the day, you cannot control the other person's behaviour. You can only control your own behaviour and commucnitaiton style. By doing so, you can hope to influence others to be more open and transparent in their communciaiton.

​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


​5. ​A control mechanism

what-is-passive-aggressive-behaviour-a-contorl-mechanism

​Dr. Monica Frank describes Passive Aggressive Behaviour as an attempt to control the emotions and subsequently the behaviour of others. Or in one word, manipulation. The subtle behaviour is intended to have you jumping through hoops to have you do as they want you to do.

" Passive-aggressive communication seeks to control the emotions of others and thereby, control their behavior. Typically, this communication style seeks to express anger in an indirect manner. By doing so the individual is able to deny all responsibility for the anger yet they score a direct hit on their target.

A common example is criticizing as if you are concerned, "You've put on so much weight! You might get diabetes or heart disease if you don't take it easy with the sweets." Certainly, in the right context this could actually be an expression of concern. However, the right context doesn't include making such a statement in front of others just as the individual is taking a bite of dessert. In this instance, if the comment is confronted, the person will often deny responsibility by stating something like, "I'm just concerned about you. Wow, are you sensitive!"

The best way to recognize passive-aggressive behavior is by analyzing the process and purpose of the behavior. Typically, as the purpose is to control and/or deflect responsibility for anger, the passive-aggressive behavior causes frustration or anger in the recipient and will escalate conflict unless the recipient handles it passively by swallowing, ignoring, or discounting their anger. Yet, if the purpose is to escalate conflict, the passive-aggressive behavior is calculated to cause the recipient to act unreasonably."

​Looking at the purpose of the behaviour is excellent advice when attempting to identify Passive Aggressive Behaviour. It is also one of the best tools for dealing with the problem. When you understand that they are trying to elicit a reaction from you which makes you look bad, you can manage your behaviour in a manner which does not give them the end result they are looking for.

​Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour

​Passive Aggressive Behaviour is certainly one of the most difficult commmunication approaches to deal with but with the right knowledge and strategies, it can be a ot easier than you think.


​'Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour' will give you both the knowledge and strategies

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​Conclusion

​I am often asked 'what is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?' It is a topic which I discuss on a regular basis but the truth is that it is not easy to describe the problem in just a few sentences. It is also important to look at the problem from the viewpoints of a few different experts. Above, I have referred to 5 different articles which will help you to understand and deal with the problem. Understanding really is the key so, it is worth taking the time to gather the necessary information and read through it.