What is Passive Aggression

While seeming to be a contradiction in terms, people who display passive-agressive tendencies can be downright dangerous.  Now, before going too far, it’s important to note that everyone, at one time or another, displays moments of passive-aggressiveness.  This is true of almost any negative personality trait.  We all have good and bad days.  But, people who have a tendency towards this type of behavior on a regular basis are not good people to spend a lot of time with.  If one does, one ends up getting hurt more often than not.

So, what is a passive-aggressive personality?  Well, it makes sense if you break it down.  A passive person is one who is agreeable and doesn’t argue much.  (S)he “goes along to get along” as the saying goes.  On the opposite end of the spectrum (ostensibly) is the aggressive personality.  This is a person who is going to get his/her way, no matter what the obstacles.  So how do these apparently polar opposites morph into one personality type?    Essentially, a passive-aggressive person uses one trait (apparent passivity) to achieve the same goal (his/her desired end result) as the aggressive personality.  So, in the end, a “passive-aggressive” personality is really an aggressive personality, but disguised as something else.  These people can be very tricky.

The passive-aggressive personality has several traits at his/her disposal they will use to get the desired outcome.  Sarcasm is very common with a passive-aggressive person.  Claiming to “go by the book” in order to create problems for others is another trick.  One of the most subtle things these kinds of personalities will do is to “accidentally” forget (on purpose).  As stated before, we will all do this on occasion.  It’s when you see this typr of behavior on a regular basis that you’re best advised to watch out.  These are some serious red flags.

Here is one example of passive-aggressive behavior I had to deal with in the workplace.  Now, this is just an example, but I imagine you can see this in some of your colleagues as well.   At a job I had about three years ago, we had a main office placed in the deep south suburbs of Chicago.  I happened to work in a satellite office that was more in the western suburbs.  The offices were about 30 miles away from each other.  The main office, down south, housed case managers (like me), but also was home to the administrative staff.  One of my many duties included filling out a form on new clients we served, in order to complete billing.  Many of the forms we used were time-sensitive.  They had to be entered into the system by data entry people who worked in the main office.  This was my experience with one of the data entry people.

I had filled out this time-sensitive form and put it into the inter-office mail, directly to one of the data entry people.  Now, inter-office mail only traveled about every two to three days.  If someone from our office happened to be going to the main office on some business, they would bring inter-office mail over and pick up ours from the main office.  Hence, inter-office mail only traveled to the correct destination two or three times per week.  

Now, I had sent this form over, via inter-office, to one of the data entry clerks.  Apparently, I sent it to the wrong one.  I openly admit this was my mistake.  But, to me, the logical thing is for this data entry person to find the right person at her own office and give it to her.  But, this person sent back the form to me with a sticky note saying, “This doesn’t come to me.”  I found out who the right person was and sent it back again.  Meanwhile, five days were lost for this document to get entered into the system.  Her “this isn’t my job” attitude wasted time.  I admit this was partly my mistake, but her response was a classic example of passive-aggressive behavior.  Fortunately, this time sensitive document ended up getting entered into the system on time, but her behavior could have made me look bad and, more importantly, delayed services for the client.  Oh, in the most technical sense, she “went by the book,” but her delaying tactics could have had grave consequences for those we are supposed to serve.

Passive-aggressive people are among the most sneaky and, covertly, mean-spirited people you ever want to meet.  If you know someone who displays these types of behaviors regularly, you are best advised to steer clear.