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Passive-Aggressive Example
Is She Passive-Aggressive or Is She an Extrovert?

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question: My co-worker is always making statements that are said in jest, but always feel like a put down in some way. They feel like very passive-aggressive comments. For example, I was in a meeting with a director and my co-worker and we were talking about collaboration and how effective it is. I said, "I love to collaborate" and my co-worker said, "YES!! You do! You REALLY LOVE to collaborate." I just smiled, but what does that even mean?

Also, I was talking about how I am shy when I meet people and I really have to work to break out of my shell. And she said laughing, "Are you kidding? I ALWAYS see you talking to random people all day long." I responded with, "I don't know who you see me talking to ALL day, but it's usually someone I am working on a project with. And yes, I do try to talk to people I don't know because I work to improve myself by getting out of my shell."

I often feel on the defense with her, like I always have to defend who I am as a person. It's really annoying and part of me wants to tell her that she needs to get some help to discover the underlying cause of her passive-aggressive behavior. But then I am letting her know it irritates me and that I am letting her get to me.

Response: What you describe could be passive-aggressive (PA) behavior or it could just be extroverted behavior. An introvert can often feel defensive with an extrovert because it seems as if they are being attacked by the comments. However, the extrovert may not mean them as attacks and they truly are simply joking statements. Therefore, it is not a good idea to directly suggest that she is PA because if it is not PA behavior you will look like the one who needs help.

The good news is that you can develop a response that can address the situation whether she is PA or whether she is an extrovert. So if she is making PA put-down jokes you can respond in a way that is likely to decrease the behavior because she is unable to irritate you. Keep in mind that the purpose of true PA behavior is to irritate you without having to take responsibility. By being indirect the PA person can deny if confronted with the behavior. Which is likely to happen in this case if your co-worker is being PA.

However, if she is not engaging in true PA behavior, then your responses will just seem like normal conversation but the behavior is unlikely to decrease. So, the responses you described are fairly good responses. Your first response of just smiling is good whether it is PA behavior or whether it is just meant as conversation. However, you might want to reduce the defensiveness in the second example you gave. For instance, "I guess if it seems that way to you, my efforts at being more social must be working!" This is a little more light-hearted, non-defensive response which works whether she is an extrovert or PA.

If what you have been doing has not reduced the behavior and given that she tends to exaggerate a great deal, I suspect it is likely she is an extrovert. However, I can't be certain without further information. I often see a lot of confusion, and sometimes conflict, between extroverts and introverts because they view the world in different ways. It is not that one way is right and one is wrong. They are just different. I learned this the hard way with my husband who is an extreme extrovert. At first I thought he didn't care if he embarrassed me but that never quite made sense because I knew he cared. Over time, I came to realize that we see the world differently.

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