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Passive & Passive Aggressive Communication Styles

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!

 

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:

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

How Is Your Passive-Aggresive Behaviour 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.

 

THE AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATOR

Aggressive communication is a communication style of stating ideas and opinions in a manner with no respect and complete disregard to others. An aggressive communicator is perceived as someone that is more concerned about self than about others. The aggressive communicator has an agenda, and will make that agenda happen regardless of the ideas, opinions, or feelings of others. Such leaders may realize afterwards that they were too aggressive with their communication, but the damage has already been done.

 

How To Recignize The Aggressive Communicator

When you communicate aggressively toward a colleague, their reaction (and the reaction of others who witness the exchange) is usually negative (resentful, angry, hurt, etc.). You may even go back to them and ask if they were okay with your aggressive communication style, but do not expect an honest response. If the person did not address you at the time, they are either passive-aggressive or passive communicators and just want to avoid a confrontation with you, particularly if your position of power is superior to theirs!

 

The aggressive-style leader in the workplace will almost always get compliance from subordinates. This is often at the expense of long-term loyalty, enthusiasm, and motivation to work harder. In extreme situations, a highly-aggressive leadership style can result in other negative outcomes, such as passive-aggressive behaviors, resentment, alienation, dissatisfaction, high turnover rates, sabotage, and in some cases litigation (e.g. hostile work environment).

 

How The Aggressive Communicator Performance Problems In The Workplace

When you have a direct report that is not performing, the initial response is to be sarcastic, hurtful and use threatening comments. You believe to motivate people you have to show them you are better than them, others were much better than them, that the work that they did was inferior, give them crazy goals that no one can accomplish, and tell them they will not make it at the rate their going. Nothing you tell them is helping them understand how to perform or indicating you want them to succeed. In fact, they most likely you are going to hurt their career if they stay on your team and they cannot possibly succeed on your team.

 

How The Aggressive Communicator Is Viewed

Why would we accept an aggressive communicator? First and foremost, they may leave a lot of dead bodies behind them, but they get things done. They are known for being task-motivated, hard chargers, goal-oriented, and there is no doubt what to expect from them. Many times aggressive is a tone set from the top and the leader may like and encourage others to be just like them. In their mind, they see the aggressive communication style as the only way things get done in the workplace.

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For help with communication styles within your business contact Activate Group’s team of business coaches and executive leadership consultants. We will help you see your business and the world differently.

 

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Howard M. Shore

Howard M. Shore

Activate Group Founder, Master Business Accelerator, Speaker & Best-Selling Author, Business and Executive Coach
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Larry Rutkowski

Kellogg School of Management, Business and Executive Coach, Speaker, Scaling Up, Management & Leadership
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Mo Rousso

Business and Executive Coach, Speaker, Published Author, Business Acceleration, Process Optimization, Tech & Innovation
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Albert Noa

Leadership and Management Coach, Human Capital Management, Change Management, Operationalizing Strategy, Performance & Process Management
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