“Behind the smile, a hidden knife!” ~ Ancient Chinese proverb
Unlike the actions of an outwardly aggressive person, passive aggressive behavior is much harder to spot. These individuals have a way making you feel uncomfortable, unwanted or upset, often without giving you a clear reason that you can put your finger on. While distancing yourself from this type of toxic behavior is beneficial, first, you must learn how to spot it.
The NYU Medical Center defines a passive-aggressive individual as:
“[someone who] may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists.”
This definition clearly outlines the biggest challenge in identifying these people in your life – they know how to act in a way that appears that they are being appropriate, complying with what is expected of them at the moment. Whether their passive-aggressiveness is directed towards a group or just a single individual, it can be highly damaging.
While you can sometimes remove these people from your lives, at other times it is much more difficult. When you find yourself dealing with a passive-aggressive individual that you are unable to distance yourself from the best approach is simply to ignore the behavior, pretending that you don’t notice. They act out in this manner to get a reaction, so if they are not getting it they will often give up their efforts.
Whether you are dealing with family members, friends or colleagues, watch for these 10 signs:
They can be incredibly stubborn.
While not all stubborn people are passive-aggressive, it is definitely an attribute that many of them possess. When referring to someone who is acting in a passive-aggressive nature they aren’t stubborn because they are standing up for something important, but rather because they are holding their grounds as a means of punishing someone. They may not even care about what they are fighting for, they just know that it will annoy those that they are looking to target.
They are constantly leaving you notes.
Rather than approaching you directly when they are upset about something, they leave little notes hinting at the problem at hand. This may come in the form of a text message, email, a post on social media or a sticky note left where you will see it. While these notes may sometimes address a legitimate problem, many are simply being nit-picky to get under your skin.
They give you the silent treatment.
Rather than discussing the situation with you in an effort to reach a solution, they will completely ignore you all together, refusing to answer questions or acknowledge that you are present. While this action can be carried out in a very obvious way, it can also be much more subtle, such as failing to acknowledge you in a public setting such as in the hallway at work, or during a meeting.
They are the office or family gossip.
Instead of acting on the things that have upset them, these individuals often use gossip as a means of revenge. While it may appear they somehow just know all the dirt about everyone around them, they will often resort to making up rumors simply to hurt those who they believe have hurt them.
They act sullen and upset to make a point.
When someone spends the day sulking about, approaching everyone and everything with a sullen, grumpy attitude it makes the situation incredibly uncomfortable. Rather than addressing the fact that they are upset about something, they will go out of their way to make you uncomfortable. You may also find that these people feel the need to complain about everything and anything.
The shoot down every suggestion.
When you, either one on one or in a group setting, are trying to brainstorm an idea or solution, nothing seems to be good enough for them. It isn’t a case of simply being picky about which ideas they will support, they refuse to support and agree to anything without any attempt to provide constructive criticism as to why they are against it. Ultimately they aren’t turning the ideas down because the ideas are bad, but instead because they just have a bad attitude overall.
Failing to complete the tasks at hand.
In an effort to make their point, those who are reacting in a passive-aggressive way will often choose not to complete required tasks. Think of it like a toddler, throwing a temper tantrum. Without the outward expression of being upset, they are acting in much the same way that many children do, refusing to do as they have been told. This is often used as a way of attacking someone in a position of authority or to put a co-worker or partner in a bad situation.
They hand out backhanded compliments.
While a compliment can go a long way to build upon a friendship or work relationship, you find that you always walk away from their ‘compliments’ feeling down on yourself or gutted. The reason for this is that they aren’t genuinely compliments, but rather subtle attacks that they have sugar-coated in a way that will come across as complementary.
They use subtle or masked insults.
While someone who is overtly aggressive will call you names, belittle you and insult you in a way that you can’t miss what is happening, a passive-aggressive person will insult you as well, however, they will be much more subtle in their delivery. For example, if they make subtle references to where you obtained your education, implying that the school or program wasn’t good enough, that may actually be directed as a passive-aggressive insult.
They undermine you at every turn.
Rather than challenging you directly, a passive-aggressive person will find ways to undermine your efforts and sabotage your performance at every chance possible. They are determined to set you up for failure so that it appears as though you failed on your own without their assistance, however their actions are directly geared towards ensuring that they put you in a losing position such as actively keeping you out of the loop during an important project.