How to Handle Passive Aggressive People

It could be that torturous group project in college. Perhaps, an inefficient colleague or direct report. Regardless, passive aggressive behaviour is unfortunate, and can be uncomfortable to deal with. We tried our best to explore and brainstorm ways in which you can tackle this, and inevitably how to handle passive aggressive people.

1) Be Aware of It

Psychology Today defines passive behavior as a “deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger”. Additionally, it is mentioned and notable that this likely occurs because anger is not considered to be a positive or socially acceptable emotion. A significant factor in knowing how to handle passive aggressive people is identifying it initially. A few examples?

  • Receiving the silent treatment (typically in-person).
  • Being casually dissed (to avoid the appearance of berating you).
  • A hostile attitude with many ups and downs.

2) Use Neutrality to Protect Yourself

Your Tango insists that passive aggressive people thrive with those that enable them. If you stop playing the game, there is no game to be had. Is it to say this is all your fault? Of course not! But playing neutral in the presence of spiteful behavior will save you in the long-run. So how does one play it neutral and how is this beneficial?

If you lose your cool, you are really no better. Responding to biting comments with facts and neutral responses, or even choosing not to address the statements, means that you often come out on top. There cannot be a fire without fuel.

Playing it neutral indicates you are less likely to be targeted, as you appear less prone to manipulation. For example, if someone tries to embarrass you, your sense of control will indicate that you don’t play with pettiness. Who wants to mess with someone who doesn’t accept shady antics? No one, that’s who.

3) Make Your Choices Consistent

Psychology Today also highlights the importance of maintaining consistent behavior in response. Cases of passive aggressiveness can vary based on many factors. Perhaps you want to pick your battles, and continue to play it neutral until you move on in some way. I can tell you that this was what I chose in the event of a passive aggressive ex-colleague – let me tell you, it worked. I moved on to a fantastic new job, and now look back fondly.

However, don’t flicker back and forth in how you handle these situations. This can convey differing messages to the passive aggressive person, which can amplify their tactics. Either be open or act quietly and strategically.

4) Communicate Clearly

I recommended playing it neutral or not giving fuel to the fire, but not if this is someone close to you. If this is a friend of yours, this might be adjusted over a cup of coffee. Expressing what you see to the individual in question is helpful, especially when a long relationship is anticipated. As previously mentioned, passive aggressiveness often occurs when people are uncomfortable with conveying anger. As a result, choosing to be direct will likely put a pin in any passive aggressive behavior.

For example, my friend was feeling annoyed by her parents’ comments and requests for grandchildren in the future. Having already made her personal decision not to have any, she sat her parents down to discuss this. She confronted their statements, listened and reaffirmed to them that everyone feels differently on certain topics.

How to Handle Passive Aggressive People

To summarize, dealing with and having to handle passive aggressive people can be rough. I definitely feel for you in any situation where this occurs. Do you have a tip or a story that you would like to share on how to handle passive aggressive people? Share it below in the comments! If you are still in a reading mood, I recommend reading about what anxiety really feels like, as told by someone who has accepted this as part of who they are.



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