The term passive-aggressive came into being during World War II, when an Army psychiatrist used it to describe soldiers who ignored or resisted orders. And while the “passive” word makes it seem benign, in practice, it’s actually quite destructive. Let’s talk about this behavior today, and maybe you’ll recognize yourself or perhaps someone you know.
According to clinical psychologist Scott Wetzler, passive-aggressive behavior is not being passive one minute and aggressive the next. It’s more like sugar-coated hostility, or aggression with an escape clause. It’s a little like a magician who distracts your attention with a joke, while your watch is being drowned in milk.
Passive-aggressive people are invariably an hour late, a dollar short and a block away, armed with an endless list of excuses to deflect responsibility. To make matters worse, they then turn the tables on you, making themselves the hapless victims of what they’ll call your excessive demands and criticism. The damage they can do to your departments or teams is reflected in overall performance and higher employee turn-over rates when the P-A instigator is the leader.
Folks who behave this way often feel powerless and believe nothing they do makes any difference. They think they are getting a bad deal out of life and they are mad as heck about it, but afraid to let their feelings out. Often, they have suppressed their true feelings for so long that they are quite unaware of them.
If you recognize yourself in this description, what should you do? Well, start by reminding yourself that it’s important to resolve, not suppress, your interpersonal conflicts and to find appropriate and constructive channels for expressing your anger. A reputable counselor can help you learn how.
It’s also important to develop your sense of personal power and mastery, and there are many good programs that can teach you to do that. You truly are in the driver’s seat of your own life, and now might be a great time to take some personal accountability and grab the wheel.