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7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People
Rule 2. Recognize when you need to address your thinking or behavior
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Rules When Dealing With Passive-aggressive People

Rule 2. Recognize when you need to address your thinking or behavior

As the PA person is often very skilled at achieving their goal, you need to make sure you don't fall into their trap. The more you are in control of your own reactions, the better you can counter the PA behavior.

Over-reaction. Other people's behavior may not always be PA just because it feels hurtful. Be sure to have insight into yourself and recognize when you might be over-reacting to others' comments.

Even if the person is being PA, an over-reaction can play into the PA trap. If you become angry, it makes you look unreasonable and gives the PA person the opportunity to blame you.

If you are uncertain about whether you are over-reacting, the good thing about many of the responses to PA behavior is that the responses can be framed in such a way that if the behavior is not PA your response can still be an appropriate way to handle the situation.

For example, someone makes a joke and you're not sure if it is just an innocent joke or whether they are laughing at you. Calmly asking, “Are you talking about me?” can clarify the situation without unduly confronting the person. However, if they are joking about you, your statement would be perceived as a confrontation and the person may be less likely to the do the same again.

Demands. Recognize when you may have unreasonable demands or expectations. Sometimes we may view others as PA when they don't meet our expectations.

For instance, you ask your boss for some help and she assigns a co-worker who doesn't complete the work the way you would. You think, “She's just mad that she has to help me” believing her behavior is a deliberate attempt to undermine you.

In this case, the person could be PA but it also could be your expectations. You need to be able to clearly define when you are being unreasonable or reading the situation wrong.

Whether the person is PA or not, you do not want to accuse the person of deliberately doing the job wrong. If your co-worker is being PA with a goal of not having to do the work, then she could blame you, complain to the boss, and achieve her goal of getting out of the assignment. And if she's not PA then you would look unreasonable.

In this situation your response can be the same whether the person is PA or just not aware of your method for completing the assignment. Assertive directions would be best at achieving your goal without falling into the PA trap:

“I realize you don't do this all the time. Could you do it this way for me?”

When you are passive-aggressive. Recognize when you may be passive-aggressive because you may need to stop your PA behavior to address the other person's PA behavior.

For example, if you are giving your spouse the silent treatment in reaction to PA behavior, you may need to change your response before you can request a change from your spouse. If PA behavior is an issue for you, read: Are You Passive-Aggressive and Want to Change?

Next: Discover the most important aspect of your behavior to manage when dealing with a PA person.