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Passive-Aggressive Example
Volunteer Using Victimization to Control

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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: We have a volunteer who behaves like she's in charge. She sends out messages on behalf of the organization (of which she's not actually a full member). If given an opportunity she'll change decisions that have been made previously. She ingratiates herself with members so she can be defended. She incites anger and then sends wounded messages to certain people in the organization. People are complaining about her and I worry we'll lose real members if we cannot get rid of her.

Response: In response to this writer, I will make several assumptions: 1) the volunteer has made friends with people in the organization who protect her; 2) the anger she incites is among the staff running the organization, not the membership; and 3) the writer does not have the authority to fire her. (To the writer: If any of these assumptions are wrong, let me know).

The behavior described appears to be a passive-aggressive (PA) controlling style. The volunteer is able to maintain her position by controlling the responses of others. The best place to start with managing this volunteer is to not respond with anger. This may require some staff training so that everyone can provide a consistent response. The problem with confronting PA with anger is that the staff is now playing her game and she has won if she can run “wounded” to powerful others who then play the part of her defenders.

Instead, there needs to be a single person to whom the staff can turn who can directly confront each and every instance of inappropriate behavior. As I've indicated elsewhere PA people hate being confronted about their behavior. In this case, this volunteer has the agenda of achieving control in an indirect manner so that she can deny that she is doing anything wrong, and that instead, she is the victim.

However, confronting her requires a calm and direct approach with a focus on specific behaviors, not overall intentions. Do NOT, for instance, say “You are destroying this organization” or “You are creating problems.” These statements are accusations that are too general and she'll play the victim.

Instead, make statements such as “Sending this message without clearance has confused members of the organization. You need to send out a correction stating that you acted without authority.” Notice that this statement not only confronts without angry accusations, but it also provides a consequence to her behavior. If she refuses, send out the correction anyway (but in a straight-forward, non-accusing way). By doing so, it may allow those who are defending her to see her actual behavior instead of her self-reported victimization.

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