Dealing With Passive Aggressive Behavior

The other day, I had a call from a past colleague that was struggling with a situation he was dealing with from his team. He was telling me that he had a couple of his team that were sabotaging his actions to improve the team and overall performance of the team. After a couple of pointed questions to understand what he was seeing and hearing… He hit on some of the basic areas of passive aggressive behaviors that will definitely hurt the team overall.

He was seeing and hearing:

  • Sarcasm – A few of the team would mock or point out something that would or could go wrong with a good portion of the discussion. Each time – he had two teammates that would feed off of each other. Looking for a laugh from the team or attempting to frustrate my colleague or get him angry.
  • Applying the “silent treatment” – when my colleague would confront the situation or ask for clarification – they would just go silent.
  • Running late – This was all the way around. Coming in late to work, meetings and missing their deadlines.
  • Not doing what was asked of them – Just flat our say, “I forgot” or they would ask someone else to help them on perform the task that was asked.

So, what is the best way to handle those passive aggressive behaviors?

  • Identify the behavior for what it truly is – hostility. Don’t get fooled by the sugar coating or smoke screen that they are putting up. They are having an effect on the team and yourself – it is not in a good way. Don’t be lenient and think it will get better, because it will not. It’s a power struggle and if you want to be the leader – then act.
  • Set limits! Make it clear that you will not tolerate this behavior moving forward. If they are missing deadlines or passing the workload to someone else – treat it as a performance issue. Discuss what need to happen, give them the expected outcome and follow through.
  • No generalities, be specific. Since they are working in sugar coating and throwing up smoke screens you have to battle that with specifics. Don’t sugar coat or ignore the behavior. Remind them of the limits. Be specific in what you need them to do and follow though.
  • Never start a conflict. This does not mean that you ignore the behavior. It just means that you don’t want to get into a conflict in front of the how team. I used to say, “XXX, I hear what you are saying. After the meeting or let’s take a minute – let’s discuss this further. Then I would fall back onto the desired expectations and discuss how this has to improve in the future. See below for further details…

Most companies have a disciplinary policy. I grew up with always attempting to address the situation or behavior with sitting down 1:1 and using that time to discuss exactly what I see and hear happening. I begin with point out specific actions or the lack of action. I discuss what the expected outcome will be in the future and how the person needs to do that in order to be successful. I would follow up closing to insure that the actions outlined are happening. If so, great! I would pass on a thank-you for a job well done, if recognition was warranted – I would make that happen and during follow up 1:1’s – I would discuss the positives. If nothing was improving – I would move onto the documented route. Putting everything in a formal written form, definitely helped to demonstrate that I am serious. If the person did not improve after that – then they usually would get terminated or quit.

I hope this helps!