Passive-aggressive is a word you hear people use a lot. But, many of them use it to describe someone’s actions when it doesn’t actually apply. They don’t seem to understand what it really means; it’s just a buzz word.
Small business owners are some of the people who don’t understand it. Overall, they rarely recognize the behavior and don’t see how it’s negatively affecting their company. That’s a problem, because odds are they’ve had in the past, currently have or will in the future have passive-aggressive employees.
The smart owner will learn what passive-aggressive behavior is, be able to recognize it and know how to manage it. If it’s not managed it can and will: undermine authority, damage morale, lower productivity and quality, harm customer/vendor relationships, create a hostile work environment and increase staff turnover.
It has turned functional operations into nonfunctional ones, without the owner knowing how it happened. The behavior is hard to identify if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s a sneaky, deliberate, sabotaging, underground way for an employee to express anger at his boss, managers, co-workers and the company, without getting caught doing it.
He wants to avoid direct, face-to face communication (passive), while still being able to act on his anger (aggressive). He thinks his anger is justified, but won’t state his concerns or dissatisfaction directly. Passive-aggressive people believe others “must pay” for their unhappiness, and they “get back” at them in indirect ways.
Some of these ways include:
- Always having excuses (“good reasons”) for not doing tasks they’ve agreed to do, have been assigned to do or are their regular job duties.
- Regularly missing clear deadlines, with excuses for why they couldn’t meet them.
- Withholding information, sometimes critical, from others while feigning ignorance — “All they needed to do was ask me for it.”
- “Stirring things up,” then standing in the background to watch the fireworks.
- Going over someone’s head or behind their back to make them appear incompetent.
- Using innuendo and rumor to sabotage others and their work.
- Not taking responsibility for their actions/words, while repeatedly blaming others.
- Giving others vague, incomplete instructions and blaming them when the job goes wrong.
- Claiming information has been sent when it hasn’t — “The text, email, fax, phone message must have gotten lost.”
- Appearing busy (texting, emailing, walking around) without doing any identifiable work.
- Taking credit for others’ work.
Doing some of these things doesn’t make a person passive-aggressive, it makes them human. Instead, look for someone who has a pattern of consistently deflecting fault by having an excuse — which includes blaming someone or something else — for doing poor or incomplete work. He believes he’s a victim, but it’s really the business that’s a victim of his behavior.