Are You a Passive-Aggressive Communicator and Why that Matters

by Howard Shore, Date: Oct 19, 2015

Are You a Passive-Aggressive Communicator and Why that Matters

This article is a continuation from “Improve Decision Making by Using the Right Communication Style” where I identified 4 ways to communicate when discussions get difficult or uncomfortable. This article will help you identify whether you are passive-aggressive communicator and help you understand why that matters!

Why Your Communication Style Matters?

If you see that your meetings are ineffective; that few decisions are being made; that there is no follow-through on decisions that are made; that there are problems holding people accountable; that people are kept on your team long after it has been determined they should be let go, you have issues that require a change in communication style!

Who Is the Passive-Aggressive Communicator?

This is a combination of the two previously outlined in my previous articles communication styles. You often use sarcasm or “joking,” with that kernel of truth embedded to make a point. This leaves a sting or causes the other person to question the real meaning of your comments. It is passive, because your opinions, wants, or needs are not clearly stated — they are veiled. It is aggressive because when the opinions, wants, and needs are conveyed through biting sarcasm or flippant comments, they can be hurtful to the person on the receiving end. This form of communication can have both hazardous effects of passive and aggressive communication. It can make the receiver of this communication style feel as if they don’t really have a voice, and it can put distance in relationships because people become suspicious about the underlying meaning of the words they’re hearing.

Here are just a few examples of passive-aggressive communication strategies that leaders often use when they do not deal with their employees and their emotions head on:

  1. Not responding to an employee’s requests. Leaders may withhold information or say they are too busy to meet, leaving the employee stranded and unable to achieve his or her timelines. The leader might also criticize the employee for not getting the work done.
  2. Not giving positive feedback. Withholding praise or positive feedback is a way of controlling how employees feel about themselves. It leaves them unsure about how they are doing in their jobs, and feeling insecure and inadequate.
  3. Not attending meetings or arriving late. When leaders feel threatened by an employee, they find ways to devalue them. For example, they may decide to not attend a meeting their employee needs them at, causing the employee’s work to be delayed. On the other hand, they might arrive late, forcing everyone to wait for them.
  4. Sounding like they agree with or assent to a request. Responding to an idea an employee has by saying “That sounds like a good idea” or “Your suggestion has a lot of merit” can cause an employee to move to action only to be told later that the leader did not agree to anything. The employee may be berated for doing something without authority.
  5. Freezing out the employee. Leaders can use the silent treatment and leave an employee out in the cold. Leaders can make the workplace a miserable place when they deny the employee any type of interaction or involvement: ignoring the employee in meetings or not acknowledging him or her when passing in the hall.

The Passive-Aggressive Person Can Be the Most Dangerous Person In the Organization?

The passive-aggressive leaders are the most dangerous to your organization, and they are everywhere. When someone has demonstrated a tendency to be passive-aggressive, it becomes necessary to set aside the words you are hearing from these people and instead observe their actions and the actions of the people reporting to them. Words from the mouth of a passive-aggressive manager cannot be trusted. They will always tell you what you want to hear and will always paint the picture of having everything perfectly under control. You have to take steps to enable their direct reports to share their concerns about leadership without any fear of retaliation. Short of doing that, you will remain clueless until problems become enormous.

Passive-aggressive behaviors are often subtle and certainly deniable. Some of them are hard to prove or confront. Leaders who practice these types of tactics need to recognize that they are a destructive force.

How Is Your Passive-Aggresive Behavior Viewed

Why would you accept a passive-aggressive leader? First and foremost, they never say no. They are considered great team leaders, good listeners, respectful to others, concerned about others, unselfish, and thoughtful, just like passive individuals. They also get things done for you at certain critical times. They have those moments where they are direct and to the point. Typically, the perceived positive traits of the submissive style are overshadowed by the more negative traits listed earlier. For this reason, you tolerate them while everyone else avoids them because they know they cannot be trusted.

If you are interested in learning about the other three styles please visit:

  1. Are You a Passive Communicator and Why that Matters
  2. Are You an Aggressive Communicator and Why that Matters
  3. Are You an Assertive Communicator and Why that Matters

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