Passive aggressive behavior is a far more subtle form of anger.

Tips for Solving Workplace Violence: Managing Rage

Passive aggressive behavior is by far the most common form of hostility in the workplace. It is a far more subtle form of anger.

When you are in a conflict with someone, the best thing to do is go and talk to the person. You want to see if you both can reach some sort of resolution with which the two of you can live. There are some people, however, who will do anything to avoid an honest confrontation. They attempt to keep their conflict hidden and their anger inside. However, their hostility is not well hidden. It comes out in a form of behavior knows as passive aggressive behavior or don't get mad, get even behavior.

DeAnne Rosenberg, author of the 2010 book This is by far the most common form of hostility in the workplace. It is a far more subtle form of anger. The hostility comes out in annoying behaviors, such as forgetting to do important tasks, calling in sick at strategic times, doing exactly what the boss said in spite of knowing that whatever the boss said was not what the boss meant, making mistakes, and so on. This type of behavior is called passive aggressive: Passive because the mistakes are common and can be easily explained away as honest errors, Aggressive because behind the annoying acts hides a hostile purpose (rage), which is to get even with you for something you did (and have probably forgotten about long ago) or did not do.

Dealing with passive aggressive behavior is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. At work, the passive aggressive person may appear to be just a stupid incompetent.

Passive aggressive behavior is a popular strategy simply because it enables a person to attack you without looking hostile. This is where a person who has some problem issue with you avoids addressing the issue but acts in ways that are purposefully designed to aggravate you. Your state of exasperation (rage) levels the playing field for them and provides a small sense satisfaction. Here are a few true stories that illustrate passive aggressive behavior in action.

A Special Delivery
William Vargas was a hard-working international peace negotiator whose travel assignments made up more than 70 percent of his job. His wife, Maria, was about to deliver twins, so he asked his boss for a reduced travel schedule during her final month. The boss reminded William that his job included a heavy travel schedule, he knew that when he was hired. The boss made it abundantly clear that she did not care what was going on in William's private life. The State Department was depending on him to fulfill his travel responsibilities, and she was going to ensure that he did so. In the final month of his wife's pregnancy, William misplaced his passport. He had to wait three weeks for a new one to be issued. During that time, he was unable to travel -- so he was at home for his wife's delivery.

Deliberate Errors
Freddie Wilson is a young kid working on an assembly line. The union contract specifies that overtime is voluntary. Production in the area is running well behind current needs. The foreman asks Freddie whether he would be willing to work overtime on the weekend to help catch up. Freddie has other plans, so he respectfully declines the foreman's request. The foreman, in front of all of Freddie's peers, manipulatively insists that he come in by saying, "Everyone else will be here. You know how important it is to be a team player. You're not going to let us down, are you Freddie?" (This verbal strategy is known as the guilt trip.).

Freddie feels exploited and angry. He mumbles his unwilling agreement. On Saturday morning, bright and early, Freddie takes his place on the line, carefully making sure that everything he puts together has some sort of error in it. At the end of the shift, nothing made that day passes quality control. Freddie is delighted when he hears the foreman getting chewed out by the plant manager. "You had an entire crew here at time and a half, and not one item passed quality control! You stupid idiot!"

The target of the passive aggressive behavior, the foreman, doesn't really understand what actually happened. Therefore, the frustration of both parties will continue. The foreman will again use manipulative tactics when requesting overtime and the kid, Freddie, will once again make junk. Freddie has not learned to stand his ground, and the boss has not learned to be honest but respectful and straightforward with his crew members. When one party attempts to stand his or her ground and the other party chooses to belittle or disregard the concerns of the other, retaliation often comes in the form of a don't-get-mad-get-even reaction.

Addressing the Causes
What is perplexing about passive aggressive behavior is that you may not realize you have angered a person until these strange behaviors start showing up. Rather than directly addressing the conflict-causing issue with the other party, many people will engage in a strategy of getting even. This popular method of dealing with conflict is generally utilized in situations where the aggrieved party is far less powerful than the perpetrator. It is used when a person is convinced he or she has no other viable method for dealing with the situation.

Passive aggressive behavior is not the way to resolve a conflict. You have to speak up and address the situation and the aggravation immediately in a calm and respectful manner. The process can be learned. You should never have to sacrifice your self-esteem or endure disrespect from another person. Being able to keep a composed demeanor in the face of infuriating situations will enable you to quickly move into conflict resolution. This ability will alleviate many of the daily tensions and stress that often make life so difficult. This is the key to personal power. It is also the secret to conflict resolution, because it leaves no one feeling defeated and desiring reprisal.

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