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7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People
Method 1. Active listening technique
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Read the following to:
  • Learn how to use the active listening method to indirectly confront PA behavior.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Learn how to best confront PA behavior directly.

Next: Learn how to use the laugh and agree method to negate a PA comment.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Methods to Use With Passive-aggressive People

Once you have the rules for managing PA people firmly in mind and feel comfortable with being able to use these rules in your interactions with PA people, the following methods can provide further direction.

These methods may be used individually or in combination. Sometimes you may try one and if that doesn't work follow with another one. The methods are in no particular order and should be used based upon your goal and what you have determined previously regarding the PA person's intent and reward.

Method 1. Active listening technique

I like this technique because it is generally an effective method of communication, and yet, if someone is being PA it becomes an indirect way of confronting the person about the PA communication. As such, it is likely to result in a reduction of the PA behavior.

This method is to listen intently to the other person, show an interest in what they are saying, and respond once they are finished. When you respond, restate their comments: “So, I understand that you are saying...Is that correct?” For example, “So, I understand that you are saying I'm fat because I eat too many snack foods. Is that correct?”

Notice that you are just restating what was said but doing it in such a way that requires the PA person to take responsibility for their statement. As I've said previously, this is the very thing the PA person doesn't want to do so you are likely to see a reduction in the PA behavior over time if you continue to make them responsible for their statements.

In addition, the active listening technique reduces acting on assumptions. If you are wrong about the statement being PA, this technique allows you to obtain clarification prior to any further action.

Finally, this method allows you to confront them with feelings once you have clarified their intent: ”I feel hurt that you feel it is necessary to say that as if I am not aware of the problem. It comes across as criticism.”

Next: Learn how to use the laugh and agree method to negate a PA comment.