Going forward on one of the purposes of this blog: to provide workable solutions for interpersonal quandaries, we are preparing a series that basically teach you “How to defend yourself from passive aggressive behaviors.”
Perhaps you think that there is very little to be done, and you are reduced to walk on eggshells around this person, trying to prevent even more damage…and this limited thinking has you concerned and frustrated.
This thought is produced by the contrast we usually have in the back of our minds…”It is better to put up with this behavior and not to have an all out confrontation full of anger….” For some reason we have been conditioned to avoid any kind of open confrontation, even the healthy ones, and to try to keep up with a forced situation that doesn’t deserve to be called “peace,” but an angry truce.
Let’s go back to the basic situation, where you are a team leader, or a manager, and you have someone in your team behaving in this way. Of course, you know that this person is immature, that his PA behavior is a defense mechanism, and all that. Anyhow, this person is not responding to you!
Now, it becomes really personal…and you shift from an outsider’s view to a very interested insider, because the action is against you or your interests…
You suddenly realize that the passive aggressive person’s goal is an attempt to control his environment, meaning by that you and your responses.
How do you realize that? See this story: a person employed for 5 years which fits the definition of passive aggressive.
When the manager would ask him a question that required immediate attention, he wouldn’t respond or look at the boss; he would sit and continue to do whatever he was doing for a long time, from seconds to minutes, for as long as the manager would be willing to wait for his answer.
If the manager interpreted this behavior as an attempt to control, his response after waiting too many times for an answer and spending time analyzing the motivation was: “to get in his face.”
If he didn't answer after an acceptable time to any yes or no question, the manager would ask, "Is that a yes or no?" in an aggressive tone. He would quickly answer the question with kindness and the manager would move on to other tasks.
Conclusion; the only way to get answers out of a passive aggressive that plays this game is not waiting, (this would be akin to letting him lead the game) but repeating your question as if you didn't think they heard it.
A leader’s purpose here is to avoid getting embroiled in the PA person’s attempt to make him wait “up in the air” for as long as he wants…with no real reason, but a subjective one only valid for him.
This answer is not a cure for all passive aggressive behavior, but a way to put some institutional limits to a very disruptive behavior which- somehow- could be interpreted as a hidden sabotage of the team leader’s project.