how to deal with passive aggressive coworker

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive Coworker (Practical Suggestions)

Passive Aggressive Behaviors in the Workplace

Passive aggressive behaviors in the workplace are no fun to deal with. They can feel cold, biting, mistrustful,… In this case study, we’ll examine 3 approaches to this issue, and show you our thoughts on the most successful way to handle this. Then, when you are confronted with how to deal with passive aggressive coworker, you’ll be well equipped to handle it.

The Situation

Working in the marketing department of a brokerage firm, you are having a great year. One reason is that you helped launch a weekly video blog that goes to all clients, and you are the on-camera host.

You share script writing with Maya, your numbers guru in the research department. Her contributions are a big part of the project’s success. Maya has kidded you at times, saying, “What are you going to do when I become a vice-president and won’t have time for your blog?”

Colleague’s Demeanor Turns Icy

The blog recently won an industry award. Management decided that, as the on-air talent, you alone should accept the award for the company. Of course, you recognized Maya in your comments.

Still, she hasn’t taken it well. Your working relationship is frosty now. You now have to prompt her for her data, and she doesn’t readily discuss the blog’s topics like she used to.  She is more distant, cold, and guarded around you. “What has prompted all of this?”, you wonder.

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive Employees?

You know Maya doesn’t get the recognition she should, but you try. How can you approach your sulking colleague to repair your working relationship? What must you do to have a successful Q4 meeting about working together in the future?

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. Appeal to Maya’s need to succeed. Point out the consequences of her behavior if she undermines the video project. She should be big enough to get past this.

 No, please try again.

B. Carefully plan a meeting that points out the benefits to Maya for working out this crack in your relationship, and allows Maya to vent her frustrations.

How to Deal with Passive Aggressive Coworkers

Dimensional Model of Behavior

Appeal to Her Need for Success. Mention Consequences if She Doesn't Cooperate

Obviously, if Maya were behaving in her best interest, she wouldn’t need to be reminded that she could be jeopardizing her job by behaving in a Q1 indignant and/or Q2 resentful way. That behavior isn’t likely to change when Maya hears an implied threat to her status at the company. Therefore Choice A is not the best option for how to deal with passive aggressive coworker.

We all may want to tell someone, in essence, to “Grow up!” at times. But, rather than being an effective way to get someone else back to working productively again, that usually just makes us feel better — it doesn't do much for the other person. Your attempt has to appeal more to what Maya is feeling.

Allow Colleague to Vent Her Frustrations. Point Out Benefits of Collaborating

Choice B is the best course of action. You need to make a sincere effort to repair this relationship by using your Q4 collaborative skills to plan a conversation around meeting Maya’s personal needs. Acknowledge her contribution to the video blog’s success, and help her realize the benefit of continuing to work together successfully.

Craft the meeting’s first step carefully. In sizing up Maya, you can see that she has strong ego needs. Raise her receptivity to the conversation by being clear that you recognize and applaud her efforts. Then, emphasize benefits to her personally. In this case, show her that by keeping up the quality of the blog, Maya has an opportunity to stand out in ways that wouldn’t be possible if she weren’t on the project.

In Step 2, probe and encourage Maya to air her disappointment and frustrations. Don’t go Q3 and try to paper over her pain. Rather, use reflective statements to show her that you understand. Often, the very act of letting the other person air emotions will raise receptivity, so that together, you can plan how the two of you will work more comfortably and productively.

You can’t impose a plan, though. If receptivity has been raised, Maya should be willing to contribute ideas for how to work together going forward. The action plan should include how Maya can put this conflict behind her and go back to being the valuable contributor she has been.

Suggest She May Be Better Elsewhere

This impulse in Choice C is misguided in many ways. Q4 leadership skills help us to become more effective in dealing with those around us — because on the job, we seldom get to pick the people we work with. You shouldn’t give up on trying to make a go of effectively working together.

Besides, it’s not your call. If you suggest to your boss that you’d like Maya off the project, and he/she says, “That’s not going to happen. It’s your job to make it work!”, how would you respond? (And by the way, your boss is right — it is your job to make it work.)

C. You both would be better off if Maya were not working on the blog. She could get a fresh start and shine in another area. Talk to her about going your separate ways.

 No, please try again.

Beyond Passive Aggressive Behavior

Having learned how to deal with passive aggressive coworker, what is next in your leadership development?

Our leadership development resources page has 2 types of resources for further development. Our Learning for Leadership Page offers a wealth of educational materials–40 more leadership tips, white papers, case studies.  Even a Do You Work with a Difficult Person page where you enter your challenging person’s behaviors, and we’ll give you actionable suggestions on how to deal with them.

When you are ready for the next step, our second set of resources helps you put your leadership skills into practice.  They’ll help make you a more effective Q4 leader, earning respect and improved results with your people.  These include tools such as people skill workshops, individualized coaching, 360 feedback, and more.

Finally, make sure you sign up for our newsletter. Keep current on upcoming activities of interest and new leadership information.