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Ways to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Behaviours in Your Workplace

As a leader in your organization, have you ever experienced ‘pagro behaviour’ from your team members? Furthermore, do you notice this behaviour happening more frequently and intensely in times when you try to implement change?

Change in organizations can trigger various forms of resistance to change, with one of them being passive-aggressive behaviours.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a hidden form of hostility that can brew beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect workplace. Signs of passive-aggressive behaviours as a resistance reaction can be identified in something as small as one team member passing a snide comment to their supervisor, to something as big as a team member sabotaging a collaborative team effort by not showing up for an important presentation.

When people feel upset, they may express their underlying dissatisfaction through paying lip service – they verbally agree to the change initiative, but behaviorally delay or even obstruct its execution. One member tells you she agrees with the initiative, but why does she keep undercutting you and the initiative during meetings with others? Another is expressing positive sentiments to your face but bad-mouths you and the initiative as soon as he turns around. They may also make comments like a rude ‘whatever’, and make remarks like ‘oh, the new software you implemented broke down again’. Worst still, you may ask a member to carry out a certain component of the initiative, and they let out an obviously exaggerated sigh or an eye roll while reaching out for the folder.

For some, even just reading about this type of behaviour can make their blood boil. Given how frustrating passive-aggressive behaviour can be, it is completely understandable if all you want to do is give the person a taste of their own medicine. After all, you are just trying to do your job as a change agent to roll out the changes! However, this is not a situation where you should fight fire with fire.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is often a way for people to get their emotional point across without having to have a direct confrontation. They may not always have malicious intentions in mind, and may simply be unsure as to how to express their misgivings to you. So give your team a chance to change.

Some reasons they may act the way they do are that:

  1. They may feel like they are victims in situations that are beyond their control

  2. They aren’t ready or willing to create positive change in their lives,

  3. Have difficulty expressing the issues they have with the initiative.

STEP ONE is to cool down the negative emotions you feel and come back to the situation with a more measured, logical frame of mind. Here, you have a snow globe. The whirlwind of negative emotions and the passive-aggressive behaviours of your team member is inside the globe. You have to be positioned outside the snow globe to go through the difficult step of managing your emotions. The ability to exercise objectivity in high-tension, uncomfortable and frustrating situations is something very powerful.

STEP TWO is to use your emotional intelligence to approach the situation. Utilize compassion and empathy to address the issues while. The objective is not to decide who is in the wrong. Rather, it is to help the team member translate their negative emotions into tangible needs that can be addressed, and responding appropriately to help the change initiative move forward. Make the individual displaying passive-aggressive behaviours feel safe by showing care, concern and true understanding in your conversations. When they recognize that confrontation and conflict aren't as scary as they might have imagined, they will be able to come to you directly with their issues instead of expressing it through passive-aggressive behaviours like before.

We hope that this quick read helps you – a leader and change agent – in dealing with your pagro team members in navigating organization change!


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