5 Tips for Handling a Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker

5 Tips for Handling a Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker

Is there anyone harder to deal with, at work or in life, than a passive-aggressive person? The trouble with people who behave this way is that while their intent is negative, their overt behavior often seems totally innocent.

In the workplace, this sometimes means dealing with someone who’s trying to sabotage you on some level, while also trying not to play into their hands by “overreacting.” After a while, it can start to feel like you’re the problem here, but don’t be fooled: the problem is the person who’s not communicating directly.

In a perfect world, of course, you’d be able to choose your teammates, and could solve this particular problem by avoiding passive-aggressive co-workers altogether. Here, in the imperfect world, you’ll have to cope by learning how to minimize the damage and protect yourself.

5 Tips for Handling a Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker

Here’s what to do:

1. Don’t take the bait.

You know there’s a subtext to everything this person says, but other people might remain blissfully ignorant. Don’t validate a passive-aggressive world view by guessing at their underlying meaning or addressing the unspoken question in their statement.

For example, let’s say you’re in charge of an exciting new project, and you know that your co-worker, Bob, is upset that he didn’t get this plum assignment, instead. You can’t help but notice that he’s always late to your – and only your – meetings since the announcement.

You can’t let it go, because his continued tardiness will start to affect everyone else’s productivity. But you don’t need to guess at his motivations, which are, after all, his business. Your problem is that he’s late; when you speak to him about it, stick to that.

2. Cover your rear.

Some passive-aggressive people just have problems with direct communication, but there’s another, more dangerous type that’s actively waiting for you to screw up, so that they can score points at your expense. Don’t help these folks along by leaving yourself open to criticism.

Get into the habit of documenting everything, from achievements you’ve made to deliverables you’ve been assigned in the weekly meeting. Make sure your manager is in the loop on what you’re doing, what you’re trying to do, and who’s responsible for what. That way, it’s harder for a colleague with bad intentions to claim that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Even if you make an honest mistake, you’ll be able to show that you were doing your best.

3. Create a safe space for honest communication.

Ever have a boss who only wanted to be told good news? That’s understandable, but it’s not constructive. To foster real communication, teams need to allow for workers to express concern, doubt, even frustration. When they don’t, passive-aggression is sure to follow.

If you’re a manager, you can help create a more positive working environment for everyone by giving your reports a chance to tell you their concerns, in private and in confidence. That doesn’t mean encouraging people to whine, but it does mean being willing to listen to news you’d rather not hear.

4. Don’t catch the cold.

Bad behavior in social situations is highly contagious. You might be the most direct and candid person in the world, but working with passive-aggressive people can still rub off on you, if you’re not careful.

Build up your psychic immune system by taking good care of yourself. Don’t let your passive-aggressive co-worker force you into losing your composure or mimicking his bad behavior. Most of all, to the extent that it’s possible, surround yourself with others who believe in communicating directly.

Which brings us to our final, possibly most important point:

5. Don’t deal with this person more than necessary.

If you’re working on a project together, you’ll have to engage in a certain amount of interaction. But that doesn’t mean you have to pick them the next time you’re assembling a team or add them to every brainstorming session and informal chat. It’s perfectly OK to protect yourself by controlling this person’s access to you, to a certain extent.

You owe your colleagues time on your calendar, but not space in your head. If one of your teammates’ bad behavior is throwing you off your game, feel free to minimize your interactions with that person. You’re being a better employee by safeguarding one of the company’s most valuable resources: your time and energy.

Read More: 10 Things Never To Say to Your Boss

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  • January 18, 2022