crystal ball photoRaise your hand if you wish you had a magic crystal ball.  Newsflash: I’m not a mind reader. If you want me to start doing something, stop doing something, do it more often, or do it less often, you’re going to have to say something. Your passive-aggressive behavior is simply not going to get you what you want or need.

According to Google, passive-aggressive is an adjective, “of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.”  (Emphasis added.)

Direct confrontation sounds scary and combative, doesn’t it?  Consider this modification to the definition:  an avoidance of a meaningful conversation which, if had, will  likely result in a beneficial outcome.  Would that positive spin on an alternative to passive-aggressive behavior encourage conversation instead of confrontation?  Definitely.

Recognizing passive-aggressive behavior in others, as well as in ourselves, is the first step.  I can give you dozens of examples and you’d be reading all day.  In the interest of efficiency (and keeping to my three-minute rule), here are five:

  1.  Making an Intentional Mistake.  If your teenager washes his red t-shirt with your white towels, maybe you won’t make him do laundry any more.
  2. Having the Last Word.  After you and your sister have agreed to disagree, and then she feels the need to add a statement to prove she’s actually correct.
  3. Procrastination. When your co-worker simply cannot meet a deadline, he may have an underlying issue that he’s hoping will justify his delays
  4. Having a Hostile Attitude.  If your husband is always grumpy on Sundays because that’s the day you want him to go grocery shopping with you, maybe you won’t want his company and he can stay home.
  5. The Silent Treatment. Perhaps the most passive-aggressive behavior of all.  “What’s wrong?” your spouse asks.  And you reply “Nothing.”  Or you simply shrug your shoulders.

So what’s the solution?  How do we deal with the passive-aggressive person?  Well, for starters, don’t call him/her passive-aggressive, unless you want more of the same.  Please recognize that passive-aggressive behavior can be a cry for approval.  Maybe your teenager is feeling unappreciated, so he’s going to mess up the laundry to get some attention.

There are almost always underlying reasons for passive-aggressive behavior, and sometimes we don’t realize it.  When I work with divorcing couples in my Mediation practice, I ask many questions in order to arrive at what’s really going on.  I’m listening to hear not only what a person is saying, but what is not being said.  And then I ask another question.

Since we can’t rely on a crystal ball, we need to rely on our words.  Communication is the solution to dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.  And what if that person simply won’t communicate?  I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that maybe he/she is unwilling to communicate in that particular moment.  What if you made an appointment to resume the conversation at a later date?