Last week I answered a question from a woman talking about divorce. You may have noticed that I didn’t deal directly with her questions about her husband’s behavior, but wrote about divorce, ultimatums, and asking yourself tough questions instead. That’s prioritizing. Deal with the hurting angry person in front of you before you move on to the hurting, angry behavior of the crazy person somewhere else. Deal with your own pain before you attempt to deal with someone else’s.
But then you still have to deal with that other person at some point. So let’s identify passive aggression and how it may exist in your life, then we can talk about how to effectively short circuit that behavior.
Ways to identify Passive Agression
1) The tone of voice is nasty but the words are fine. Sometimes, the words are exactly what you’ve been wanting to hear. Just never in that tone.
2) The person speaking looks either sainted, or martyred and on their way to sainthood.
3) Lots of victim statements. “I never get what I want anyway.” “You only say negatives to me.” “I’m done. I can’t live like this anymore.”
4) Extremes! You can hear these coming from the words; always, never, & every.
5) You get cast as the bad guy, wet blanket, person who says no, etc. This is done with lots of sighing and very few direct statements to you.
6) Sulking, pouting, and hiding out in bedrooms or bathrooms. Let’s face it. Nobody needs THAT much time in the bathroom.
7) Excuses, lots of excuses for job performance, chores that aren’t done, responsibilities they accepted and won’t complete, etc.
8) Their “help” usually slows the process down or stops it completely. This is then your fault and you never let them help you anyway, so why should they try? (Say that last bit in a hurt tone to get the real effect here).
9) Ambiguous statements about their intentions so you can’t hold them accountable later.
10) Blaming whatever happens on someone else, or on the flip side of this, “It’s all my fault. It’s always all my fault!”
11) When you try to confront on any of the above behaviors, the other person will act hurt, ask you to give them examples and deny everything. They will also try and guilt trip you about how you never appreciate them and always have to bring up the negatives.
If you recognize these behaviors in people you have to deal with at home or work, God Bless you. You’re dealing with a passive aggressive. These behaviors may be part of a larger problem of self-centeredness, repressed anger, or lack of empathy. They can also be a sign that the person you’re dealing with has gotten away with this brattiness for years and expects it to work on you too! Let’s stop’em cold.
Think of cold water in your face. It’s a shock. It’s not what you expected. It’s uncomfortable. Passive Aggression works because people respond in usual ways that the perpetrator of this behavior expects and plans for. You need to do the verbal equivalent of cold water in their face.
Shock – Say something bizarre, off topic, or innapropriate to the time and setting. Once you’ve thrown them off guard, go back to the original conversation and act like you never said anything. The Passive Aggressive says, “You never say anything good about me.” You say, “I think about farting in my bosses office every time I’m in there.”
Unexpected – What have you typically said back to this person? Spend some time figuring that out so you don’t do it again. They’ve said, “I’m done. I can’t live like this anymore.” and you’ve typically told the m to calm down, everyone wants you to stay. Switch it up. “Can you describe exactly what you’re done with and how long this will last?” “There’s the door, I’d appreciate it if you locked that behind you.” “I think you should be more mad. Why don’t you go knock on the bosses door and tell this to him.”
Uncomfortable – Passive aggression is all about three things; getting reassurance without having to responsibly ask for it, getting your way without having to reciprocate, and being controlling while having all the benefits assigned to victims. Stop giving this person any of the payoffs.
This will sound mean at first and it will be met with resistance. “You don’t really love me!” expects the response, “Of course I do!” Instead, “If you need reassurance there is a nicer way to approach me for that.” “Somedays you are harder to love than others.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Do not give reassurance when it is asked in a negative or combatative manner. Let the other person know you are willing to reassure, when you are asked appropriately.
Passive aggressive behavior is about wanting other people to help you without the responsiblity of helping them back. You scratch my back, and I’ll whine about how you don’t scratch it like you used to and accuse you of being “tit for tat” when you want anything in return. The expected response to “(deep heavy sigh) Oh, ok, I guess I’ll have to spend my only day off on cleaning up the back yard.” is something about how you don’t want them to loose their only free time. Stop giving in, it only encourages all the bad behavior. The new uncomfortable response is, “It’s your choice what you do with your day. The back yard needs to be cleaned. If you’re not willing to do that, I do not want to hear your opinion of how I did it.” Or, “I’m glad that you’ve given up your day off to get that done, I’ll make sure everyone stays out of your way.” They may not clean up, but they will never again skate out with permission from you to enjoy their day while they leave you holding the bag.
It’s aggression. Passive or not, it’s still about wanting to control the situation and using bad behavior to get there. This person is not a victim and they do not need any more excuses. Statements that are all about poor-dear-me-my-life-is-so-bad, are designed to ellicit your helpful response. Stop helping. If your spouse looks at you and states, “I never get anything I want” in the defeated tone of voice designed to make you feel guilty, look right back at them and say, “Well I get a number of things I want.” Smile and walk away. If your co-worker says, “That’s ok, we can go to McDonalds. I can’t eat anything there, but I need to loose weight anyway” look right at her and happily say, “Thank you!”
You do not need to give in to people who won’t ask directly for what they want. You don’t have to scream at them and you don’t need to fight with them either. Imagine you’re throwing cold water and be prepared to shock, do the unexpected, and make the behavior uncomfortable. It will take time, but you can teach people which behaviors you will actually put up with and which ones will get doused.
Picture by Eole, Flickr Creative Commons