Passive-aggressive people. You know the type.
They never say they won’t do something. They agree but then, aw shucks, “the dog ate their homework” – and, of course, it’s not their fault.
They never ask for what they want. They whine or charm or sulk… until you offer. But they didn’t ask, so they don’t owe you anything. Hey, you offered.
And they claim to be the kindest person in the world. Would never hurt a fly. But they attack others — always with plausible deniability.
These people will drive you crazy. So what do experts recommend you do to win with these types?
What’s The Deal With Passive-Aggressive People?
Well-adjusted people are assertive. They’ll explain why they can’t help or ask for what they want. Aggressive folks will respond to requests with a flat “No” and will happily steamroll you to achieve their goals. Other people are passive. They’ll cave and do what you tell them, or give up on what they desire rather than ask for it.
And then we have the passive-aggressive bunch: they’re not going to say no, but they’re not going to follow through either. They’re not going to ask for what they want, but that’s not going to stop them from trying to get it.
From Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry:
The more these hapless vampires like, respect, or fear you, the less able they are to say directly, “I’m angry” or “I don’t want to do that.” They have to rely on misunderstanding, forgetting, or falling apart to do the job for them. That’s the way it is; accept it or pay the price. The most frequent cause of headaches is pursuing the one goal that is absolutely unattainable with Histrionic vampires—having them admit to their actual motives.
Most passive-aggressives live in a fantasy world of denial. They don’t want to be seen as a bad person but they don’t want to do unpleasant things. But if the unpleasant things don’t get done because of an accident, well, it’s not their fault, and they’re not a bad person.
From Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry:
In their minds, they are good children—innocent, happy, eager to please, and always willing to do more than their share. Real people are complex, full of base motivations and unacceptable desires as well as the stuff of angels. Passive-Aggressive Histrionics have the frightening capacity to deny any but the most superficial and attractive thoughts. They blithely ignore the ugly stuff even if it’s plainly visible to everyone else. Histrionics are not perfectionists, they’re more like perfectionist wannabes. They don’t necessarily want to be perfect; they just want to look perfect… Normal people recognize that they can’t act on their impulses. Passive-Aggressive Histrionics try to believe that they have no inappropriate impulses to act on. This is what makes them dangerous.
They’re perpetually innocent. And if you accuse them, you’re a bully. They’re always the victim.
Now there is another type: aggressives who use passive-aggressiveness as a deliberate strategy to act like jerks and not be held accountable. Modern corporate culture has come down hard on aggressive behavior. While noble, this has just driven it underground. Shouting is verboten, so they manipulate you instead.
So what’s the best way to identify a passive-aggressive as early as possible? Look for a past that resembles Hurricane Katrina.
These types often leave a wake of devastation behind them. Of course, it wasn’t their fault. They were the victim. But if someone keeps having bad luck again and again and again… that’s not bad luck.
See them coming and you might be able to stop them from bleeding you dry. And that’s why clinical psychologist Albert Bernstein refers to them as “vampires.”
Okay, we have met the enemy — and it’s never their fault. As with narcissists, subclinical psychopaths and other oh-so-pleasant folks, if you see them for what they are, the best way to deal with them is not to deal with them. Run.
But there are many cases where that just isn’t an option, like the office. So what do you do about it?
1) Don’t Give In
They’re giving you a migraine. There’s always an excuse. They are always the victim. Wouldn’t it just be easier to give in so they shut up and go away?
No. Don’t give them what they want. Now you’re rewarding the puppy for pooping on the carpet. Guess what’s going to happen next time they want something?
2) Don’t Get Angry Or Call Them Out
If you get furious or make accusations, then you’re a bully. They’re always the victim, remember? So don’t give them a plausible way of accusing you of being a bully.
You don’t want to end up on their enemies list. Not that they’re vindictive — they’re as pure as the driven snow — but your bullying behavior might be something HR should be aware of. You know, for the good of the company. After all, they just want to help.
And trying to get them to take responsibility for their actions is a fool’s errand. They’d have to admit they’re not sweet, kind and lovable. They’d have to admit they have base desires. Not gonna happen.
3) Speak Their Language
You need to express your needs in their “I-am-the-victim” reality. Tell them it is truly awful that space aliens stopped them from taking care of that task they committed to. (You’ve dealt with E.T. yourself, and you understand how difficult he can be.) You appreciate them doing their best, and we’re just going to need to try again.
4) Be Direct And Always Reward Good Behavior
Do what they can’t: be direct about what you want. Otherwise, we now have two passive-aggressives dealing with one another. And while that might make a fantastic SNL sketch, it’s not something you want to be a part of. (You’ll lose. They have a lot more practice at this than you do.)
So be direct about what is expected and let contingencies do the work.
5) Use “Response Costs”
Overt punishment or retaliation won’t work. That just feeds their narrative of “Me: Victim; You: Bully.”
But their bad behavior causes problems for you and it needs to cause problems for them too. It was awful that a 747 crashed into the post office where they were supposed to mail that letter for you, and you feel terrible they had to suffer through that tragedy. But since it happened, there’s now another step they need to complete.
Filling out an incident report or paying that late fee you incurred. Anything you can think up that makes their “accidental” slip ups not worth the hassle in the future.
Here’s how to win with passive-aggressive people:
Don’t give in: If you show them this behavior works, you will get more of it. Period.
Don’t get angry or call them out: Because then you’re the meanie they always suspected you were. Meanie.
Speak their language: You know full well how awful it is when vikings prevent you from getting somewhere on time, so be understanding.
Be direct and always reward good behavior: “Fetch and you get a treat, Sparky.”
Use “response costs”: When you don’t pay parking tickets, the city doubles the fine. They’re so awful, aren’t they? Might wanna pay the ticket on time in the future.
Ignore the excuses. Pay attention to actions, not words. You cannot control their behavior but you can control your response. Forget trying to change them into an acceptable human being; the best you can do is get the right behavior out of them.
And never forget that they’re the victim here. After all, if an unexpected ninja ambush prevented you from completing that important PowerPoint presentation, how would you feel?