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7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People
Rule 5. Choose your goal
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Read the following to:
  • Learn how to organize your response to PA people by knowing what you want to achieve.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Learn the most important rule to managing PA behavior.

Next: Master techniques to respond to PA comments.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Rules When Dealing With Passive-aggressive People

Rule 5. Choose your goal

Before you respond to a person's PA behavior you need to choose the outcome that you want and to determine whether this goal is achievable. Understanding what you want to achieve is critical to forming a response.

For instance, if you want to reduce your negative reaction to someone, you might want to ignore the comments and focus more on practicing calming self-talk. Or, if you want to manage how you are perceived by others because of the PA person, you may want a witty retort or a calm explanation instead of an angry comment.

Although in many situations your stated goal may be to get out of their trap and to put them in a box where their only response is to stop being PA or to have to be responsible for their behavior (which often stops the PA behavior), such a goal may not always be practical. If you want to change the behavior, you also need to determine if the outcome is worth the effort. Or, perhaps more achievable goals can be determined.

Some questions to ask yourself to help determine your goal:

  • Do you want to change the person's behavior?
  • Do you want to derail the PA behavior by stopping the person from being rewarded?
  • Do you want to manage the fall-out and the perception of others?
  • Do you want to prevent your own self-doubt and negative feelings?
  • Do you want to feel more in control?

By asking yourself these questions, you can determine what your goal is so that your response will be based upon how to achieve that goal.

Reader's Example: Grandmother's Criticism of Child

Question: My mother criticizes my 10-year-old son about his hair, clothes, the activities he likes, you name it. He's a good kid, does well in school, and I think that he should be able to make his own choices about these things. I can see that my son is hurt by this criticism. When I try to tell my mother to stop, she and my sister say, "He's a boy and he needs to toughen up. He needs to be able to handle teasing. You're just over-protecting him." Is she right? How do I get her to stop?

Next: Master techniques to respond to PA comments.