Seven Ways to Prevent Passive-Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

By | August 31, 2014

These days, outright aggression in the workplace is rare.  However, passive-aggressive behavior—in the form of scapegoating, blaming and denying—can be common.  We HR folks know this to be true.  We also know passive-aggressive behavior slows productivity and is responsible for many workplace ills.  So how do we prevent it?

  1. Insist upon open lines of positive communication. Simply put, everyone needs to be heard without the fear of being terminated.  Have several official ways to communicate as well as an open-door policy.  Unexpressed concerns will eventually express themselves in negative ways.
  2. Acknowledge perception.  People will feel things based on perception alone, so we must address these feelings rather than telling someone “you shouldn’t feel that way.”  People are going to feel the way they feel based on perception, not necessarily the truth.
  3. Train people to communicate effectively.  Train them to actively listen to each other and to have conversations that maintain the respect and dignity of the other person.  People tend to de-prioritize their relationships with co-workers in favor of running reports and finishing projects when, in fact, solid relationships are the key to innovation and productivity.
  4. Create a compassionate culture by assuming goodwill.  If a mistake is made, assume it was unintentional.  Don’t assume others are purposefully making your work life hard.  Discuss any problems with an assumption of goodwill, and you will go a long way in avoiding passive- aggressive behavior.
  5. If someone does communicate something to you that makes you angry or irritated, don’t show it.  Stay calm and professional.  If you react in a negative way, the employee will most likely never communicate with you again.   And this inability to communicate will almost certainly lead to passive-aggressive behavior
  6. Encourage healthy assertive behavior.  Never shoot down someone’s ideas without explaining why something might not work or be difficult to implement.
  7. Be consistent in your behavior.  Everyone should always know where you stand.  Be the same person with co-workers, leaders and subordinates.  Having different personalities generates trust issues and causes others to clam up.

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