Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dealing with passive-aggression : the scourge of the workplace

Almost all of us have dealt with passive-aggression at the workplace. One of my mentors once aptly compared it to being akin to stepping on a Persian carpet that has a hidden nail. It hurts you only when you step on it. And, it's not known to anyone else.

I thought that it would be useful to include a list of passive aggressive behaviours - so that you are sure of what you are dealing with. In the first place, I sincerely hope you don't have to deal with it at all!

From the Wiki:

The book Living with the Passive–Aggressive Man lists 11 responses that may help identify passive–aggressive behavior:
  • Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one's own insecurities.
  • Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of dependency
  • Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive–aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
  • Making chaotic situations
  • Making excuses for non-performance in work teams
  • Obstructionism
  • Procrastination
  • Sulking
  • Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.

Much like 'suck-up's at the workplace, passive-aggression tends to stem from a couple of triggers, most commonly either a lack of competency or a situation requiring change. 

While dealing with passive-aggression, try to find out the trigger. In many cases, it could have been triggered by some altruistic thing that you did! Though slapping your forehead now doesn't really help the situation you have got yourself into, it could make you feel better. Go ahead. 

Getting back to the topic, the trigger could be either or many of the following; some initiative you displayed, some well meaning change you brought about, something that either resulted in more work for someone or loss of significance for the person or stretches the person towards development or is likely to surface some baggage around past inefficiencies. 

Try to use your relationship with the person. If you need to apologise for what you think are the person's misgivings, apologise. You will save a lot of effort and time not proving you were right. Possibly neither of you were anyway!

Next, try to find a common goal that both of you value and try to work with the person towards that.

If that doesn't work either, set clear expectations on behaviours that you expect. If needed, speak to your supervisor and keep her informed that you are making an effort in the direction. Remember that in human relations, its quite normal for things to go wrong. Even pencils have erasers. 

What is important to remember is that passive-aggression is not something that you need to really endure. It is dysfunctional. What is in your hand is the way you want to deal with it for a mutually beneficial workplace. 

All my research over the years has shown to a large extent that human life spans tend to be less than two centuries. What was the last thing you did to be happy? Happiness matters.

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