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How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People and Not Lose Your Mind

Learning how to deal with passive-aggressive people is an unfortunate circumstance of life. But these ways will help you navigate anything they throw your way.

how to deal with passive-aggressive people

If you’re unlucky enough to have met a passive-aggressive person in your life, we bet you can recall how that person drives you crazy, frustrated, and near-homicidal. And it left you wondering how to deal with passive-aggressive people without losing your mind too.

Think of passive-aggression as the Aikido of hostile behaviors. Because while you’re there feeling the damage from the veiled hostility thrown at you, the person responsible just calmly walks away, looking seemingly innocent from the effortless manner they made your life miserable.

In any case, passive-aggressive behavior should have no place in any kind of relationship, be it professional or personal. It causes a lot of grief, it does nothing to resolve problems, and it eventually wears down both parties through emotional attrition until the relationship ultimately falls apart. Therefore it is important to know how to deal with passive-aggressive people early on and prevent the person from becoming accustomed to passive-aggression.

Why do some people resort to passive-aggressive behavior?

The main reason why some people go for passive-aggression is because of conflict-avoidance. They are usually not confident enough to voice their problems for fear that it causes undue conflict which in turn causes them much distress. This way, they resort to covert ways to control the situation other than direct confrontation or a discussion. [Read: 14 ways people use emotional manipulation to mess with your mind]

How to deal with passive-aggressive people

#1 Know the signs of passive-aggressive behavior. As mentioned, passive-aggression is a form of “sugar-coated” hostility which makes it hard to notice at first. Compared to overt aggression like a guy yelling obscenities at you, passive-aggression is hostility done in innocent and unassuming ways that is not normally considered as aggressive. Here are the common manifestations of passive-aggressive behavior:

*The silent treatment – ignoring a person, deliberately avoiding calls, laconic responses to conversations, etc.
*Procrastination – deliberately delaying any work assignments or household chores.
*Running late on purpose
*Not showing up on purpose
*Failing to do something asked of them
*Withholding praise or due compliments
*Withholding intimacy – deliberately avoiding holding your significant other’s hand, pushing them away when they cuddle up, etc.
*Acts of sabotage
*Being too critical of the person

[Read: 12 ways to stop negative people from sapping your energy]

#2 Avoid being passive-aggressive yourself. When confronted by a passive-aggressive person, fighting fire with fire is not a good idea. As mentioned, the passive-aggressive cycle is frustrating and exhaustive to both parties as it fails to address the real problem and only emotionally wears down both parties until the relationship falls apart.

In a situation where one plays the passive-aggressive, the other should take initiative to take the higher moral road in order to break the cycle and start addressing the real issue. [Read: 18 emotions you shouldn’t feel in a healthy relationship]

#3 Direct aggression is not a good idea either. Normally you would think that confronting the other person with direct aggression would be the alternative. However, this only causes them distress and encourages them to be more passive-aggressive with other people.

As mentioned, when it comes to knowing how to deal with passive-aggressive people, they resort to such behavior in order to bypass dealing with conflict. Therefore, more conflict only reinforces their idea to be more passive-aggressive with people.

#4 Being positive assertive is the key. So you can’t fight them in their own style and you also can’t be aggressive. Where does that leave you then? There is only one way to effectively deal with passive aggression—being positive assertive.

Positive assertion is different from being aggressive. While aggression is any behavior that may or not be destructive and hostile, positive assertion on the other hand aims to resolve a problem as the initiative. Positive assertion opens the table for the peaceful discussion of problems of both parties, along with coming up with a solution agreeable to both. [Read: The 25 early-warning signs of toxic people]

#5 Call out the passive-aggressive behavior. The efficacy of passive-aggressive behavior lies on its covert nature where the passive-aggressive person seems innocent while showing veiled hostility towards their target.

So right from the beginning, it is better to address it by letting the person know that you recognize they act in a passive-aggressive way and cause problems. In this manner the passive-aggressive behavior loses its advantage. You pave a way for a mature discussion of the underlying problem.

#6 Point out the specific passive-aggressive behaviors. The initial reaction to being called out is denial. However, if you point out the specific scenarios where the person displayed passive-aggressive behavior, it will be difficult to deny. However, doing this alone puts the person on the spot and perceived as hostility. [Read: How to compromise in relationships without feeling like you lost something]

That’s why there should be a follow-up:

Point out the behavior/s: “You’ve been missing my calls and not replying to my IMs, is something wrong?”
Denial: “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just busy.”
The follow-up: “You can’t have been busy and ignore people for one whole month. If something is wrong and it involves me, please let’s talk about it.”

#7 Set consequences for passive-aggressive behavior. Going back to how passive-aggression works, this method allows you to avoid the frustrating effects of the person’s behavior by adding a sort of punishment to whatever style of passive aggression they use.

This way, the person realizes that being passive-aggressive will not harm anyone except themselves. Not only does this deter the person from being passive-aggressive, it also convinces the person to cooperate and resolve their problems in a more constructive way.

#8 Positive resistance. Positive resistance is not letting yourself fall trap into the schemes of passive-aggressive people. By showing the person that continuing such behavior is useless and has no effect, it backfires and they reconsider continuing such behavior.

This is easy once you identified the specific acts directed towards you. However, positive resistance requires a lot of calm against the scorched earth method perpetuated by passive aggressive people. [Read: How to stop being passive aggressive]

#9 Extend genuine concern and help. If you truly want to know how to deal with passive-aggressive people and help them change at the same time, you can never forget the fact that they act like they do as a cry for help. They have problems and it is the only method they know to help them avoid their problem. Oftentimes, they don’t know that what they are doing is not helping them fix the problem.

Having them acknowledge they have a problem or feel upset helps them look into a constructive solution to the issue instead of destroying everything in their wake.

[Read: Interpersonal attraction, and why we like some people and hate others]

Passive aggressive behavior is said to be a talent for annoying without effort. It is mutually destructive and strains all kinds of relationships in the end. The only way to deal with passive-aggressive people is by adopting a positive attitude towards problem resolution.

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Paul Timothy Mangay
Paul aka Morty is a keyboard-pounding cubicle-dweller based in Manila where he occasionally moonlights as a writer for anyone in need of his mediocre word-strin...
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