My Thoughts on Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive Aggressive

Like most of us, I have worked with passive aggressive people in the past. Some of you may be suffering under one as we speak. If you are, I feel for you.

Passive aggressive behaviour displays itself in many forms.

                   Resentment       sullenness      moody      complaining      sarcasm                     petty-grumblings        stubbornness         purposeful inefficiency        chronic lateness  sabotage    silent treatment    blames others       withholds praise       withholds affection 

I have heard someone describe passive aggressive behaviour as ‘sugar coated hostility’.

During my growing years, I know that I too, had used passive aggressive behaviour in an attempt to exert some kind of control over people. I think we learn that with some people, figuratively ‘stamping our feet’ DOES get you what you want. Wonderfully though, as we grow and mature and become more aware of the value of others, we develop more effective and less damaging methods of asking for what would please us.

The passive aggressive in a dental practice situation is highly damaging if not managed correctly. Everyone feels controlled by this person. Often it is the passive aggressive who stays and the other employees start quitting. I have been witness to practices where growth of the practice is not occurring because it will trigger the passive aggressive office manager in to a reaction that makes everyday life very uncomfortable. The ‘victims’ know they should do something about it, but feel incapable to do so.

What I do know is this…

Passive aggressive behaviour stems from a need to exert control over others, but they want to do this without conflict. The passive aggressive actually does all they can to avoid conflict. They lose sense and reasoning in a confrontation.

Passive aggressors seek out those who won’t call them out on their behaviour. Once a person calls them out, they will not exhibit their passive aggressive behaviour on that person anymore.

Failing to step up to the passive aggressor means that you will remain a victim of them.

The only way to stop a passive aggressor from having a controlling force over your team is to stop enabling them.



  • Address them face-to-face. Not via email or phone.
  • Stay calm.
  • Separate the person from the behaviour. It is not the person that is unwanted, but the passive aggressive behaviour.
  • Be respectful in your approach. One, because they deserve it, and two, because anything else will bring out their defensive side. No progress can be made if someone is defensive.
  • Your purpose is to open up the channels of communication. Ask them to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • State specific interactions, e.g. “When you criticised the nurse yesterday, it seemed to make her upset. That is not how we want people to feel here. Let’s come up with a better approach for next time.”
  • Do not get into a tit-for-tat.
  • Recognise that the aggressor actually wants to be heard. Do not just tell them what not to do, but provide them with an acceptable method of achieving their goal. Tell them, “You should feel comfortable to speak your truth. The acceptable way to do this here is to speak it directly with honesty and kindness.” “You should always feel welcome to come and talk to me personally about anything you wish to discuss. You also have our staff meetings as a place to have your thoughts expressed.”
  • If you feel there is no progress, cease the discussions and tackle again later.

No-one has the right to change people. However as a leader of a group of employees, it is your responsibility to set a standard of communication and behaviour that enables the growth and prosperity of all involved, including the business.