Being Passive Aggressive In The Workplace Is Killing Your Career

January 21, 2016  |  



Webster defines passive aggressiveness as “denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.” In order words, people who are passive-aggressive hardly ever go right to the point, instead they maneuver around and around in the hope that others will understand or do what they want.

Such behavior can doom your career.  “People that are passive aggressive become known for being nice to your face and then behaving differently when their back is turned. This is bad for your career because it prevents you from building relationships with your co-workers and relationships are the currency of how people get things done at work,”  said Karlyn Borysenko, principal of Zen Workplace.

Speaking of currency, this type of behavior can also cause you to get passed over for promotions and raises. “Passive aggressive communication is wildly detrimental to your career because it can bring the entire team down, lower overall performance of the team, lead to missing deadlines or losing business,” said career and business coach Rachel Ritlop. Passive aggressiveness can also lead to lowered annual raises and even getting fired in some cases.”

While many people don’t consider themselves to be passive-aggressive, Muse warns the real issue might be lack of self awareness. “Being—or appearing—passive aggressive can really sneak up on you. When we try to minimize criticism, things can easily go awry. Rather than couching your constructive criticism in confusing language, just come out and say it—politely. Your colleagues will appreciate your candor, and you’ll avoid being labeled as the worst person to meet with in the office.”

If you’re unsure as to whether you’ve fallen into this fruitless behavior pattern, consider how you react when someone tells you something. If you are inwardly judgmental or envious, you are passive-aggressive. “You secretly hate the majority of your colleagues, what they stand for or are simply disgruntled, but you put pretend you are happy there,” explained Motivational Speaker and Life Coach Onika McLean. “There is a specific style or nuance to display your dissatisfaction without being overtly negative. If you aren’t happy in any particular position it manifests itself automatically. Often times when we are displeased and don’t vocalize these feelings, we internalize them and the result is mental, emotional and physical distress.”

Thinking your co-workers are always ganging up on you is another indicator you’re being passive. “The passive aggressive communicator often views themselves as the victim in the workplace. They constantly complain about injustices, lack of appreciation, and generally walk around with a hostile or miserable energy and attitude,” explained Ritlop.

When things go wrong in the office, the passive-aggressive person hardly ever admits wrongdoing. This is called shifting blame. “Passive aggressive communicators often have no idea how to take responsibility, and will make excuses or even lie about how everyone else is wrong or messed up,” Ritlop added.

And while you might not think you are being passive-aggressive, your colleagues most likely know you are. “Passive aggressive people will often say one thing but their body language is totally the opposite,” Ritlop pointed out. “For instance they’ll say ‘You did a great job in the presentation yesterday!’” while his or her body language is closed off and they have a sarcastic smirk on their face. This body language is usually indicative of jealousy or insecurities.

This person may also have difficulty giving a straight answer. “If a co-worker asks, ‘Can you stay late and help us with this project?’ The passive aggressive reponse is ‘Uhm, I am not really sure, I’ll have to see.’ This is another way the passive aggressive feels like he or she is in control of the situation,” Ritlop said.

Passive-aggressiveness doesn’t have to be a way a life. And if you want to help you career, you need to stop this behavior immediately. “Ask yourself disruptive questions. Do some self-reflection before speaking negatively. What will I gain from speaking up? Am I looking at this situation in the worst possible way? How would the person I’m speaking about feel if it got back to them?’” suggested Borysenko.

A lot of time passive aggressiveness comes from insecurity, so you should work on your self-esteem issues as well. “Develop your confidence,” said Borysenko. “Passive aggressive behavior is an indicator that something else is going on and it usually stems back to the person’s confidence in themselves. There’s simply no reason for someone with a highly developed sense of self-confidence to be passive aggressive–there’s no win there. So the best thing someone who thinks they are passive aggressive to do is really work on themselves and focusing inwardly rather than outwardly.”

Further, you need to own your opinions. “Practice using ‘I’ statements followed by a feeling word. For instance, instead of saying ‘you’re sabotaging this project to play candy crush’, which right away focuses on the other person, express your experience with something, like ‘I feel disrespected and frustrated when you play candy crush at work rather than helping us meet our deadline,’” advised Ritlop.

Finally, say what you mean and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. “Always communicate your needs,” Ritlop said. “People are not mind readers, and a confused mind is often an anxious mind, which can even lead to passive aggressive communication.

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