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Passive Aggressiveness in Business

Nothing sabotages workplace productivity quite like passive-aggressive behavior.

I have been guilty in the past of falling victim to passive aggressiveness. In fact, for much of my life I would claim to be “OK” when bothered. For someone who cannot help but show emotions through body language and facial expressions, there was no hiding when I was unhappy, but the words that came from my mouth often indicated otherwise.

I carried my passive aggressiveness in to the early stages of my career. As a 23-year old hitting the workforce, I was lacking in the art of handling difficult conversations, let alone being assertive enough in conversation and comfortable in my value to bring up what was bothering me. By the time I had matured enough to realize I needed to bring issues to the forefront, I felt too much damage had been done and it was time to move on.

So I did just that. I joined my second company with a fresh-lens view of how I wanted my life at work to look. When I had issues, I brought them up to those who would listen and/or those who I felt could make a difference. I avoided getting involved in a political game and forced myself to not be concerned with how delivering a message would be viewed by others.

In essence, I became more selfish about my well-being and knew that if someone listened, they would understand my motives were anything but selfish. The environment in which I called “work” became exponentially better than I ever expected it could be. It was me that had changed, now mature enough to recognize that holding in my concerns helped nobody, and surely did not help me.

Fast forward several years and I find myself in a relationship business. Though I leverage my technical background and acumen in each of those relationships, my ability to listen to others concerns and have direct conversations is what separates me as a trusted advisor and leader.

Consider the following before you bottle up your concerns and avoid that uncomfortable business conversation:

  • Passive aggressiveness is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. If an individual has passive aggressive feelings in the workplace, the individual is likely to bring these feelings home and project these feelings on to others.

  • Passive aggressiveness destroys office morale. Everyone else in the office knows when a co-worker is not happy. Creating an uncomfortable environment is a selfish result of passive aggressiveness.

  • Telling someone you are “OK” but that clearly not being the case can deteriorate trust.

  • People leave positions because they assume things cannot change at their current employer. Before you look to transition from your current role due to unhappiness, make sure you have a direct conversation with someone who should be equipped to make a difference.

Observing a passive-aggressive colleague? Do not avoid the necessary conversation, as doing so will allow the problem to continue to fester. Be direct, sharing concrete examples of where you have observed the passive aggressiveness towards yourself or others. Though you will never change someone who does not want to change, be authentic and vulnerable, sharing how the behavior pattern is affecting your work environment.


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