While an occasional passive-aggressive approach to life’s problems isn’t unusual, manipulation and indirect communication are a way of life for some people. Passive-aggressive people often go undetected in the office and in their social circles—at least initially—because they disguise their seething hostility with a pleasant demeanor.
Here are nine things, though, that only passive-aggressive people do:
1. Deliberately “Forget” to Do Things
Passive-aggressive people prefer to be viewed as “absentminded” rather than disagreeable. Instead of declining to work on a project, a passive-aggressive co-worker may claim he forgot about the deadline. Or a passive-aggressive friend may say she forgot to make reservations for the restaurant you’d been talking about because she didn’t actually want to go.
2. Say Yes When They Have No Intention of Following Through
In an effort to look like people-pleasers, passive-aggressive people rarely say no. They may ignore an invitation altogether only to claim later that they never received it. They often robustly agree to face-to-face invites—even for things they have no desire to do. To escape their obligations, they may then cancel plans at the last minute by feigning an illness or emergency.
3. Engage in Backstabbing Behavior
It’s not that passive-aggressive people don’t share their opinions—it’s that they don’t share them in an upfront manner. They’re likely to complain to everyone except the person they’re complaining about. Their indirect approach hurts relationships and does nothing to solve problems.
4. Are Inefficient on Purpose
Passive-aggressive people are stubborn. When they don’t want to do something, they often become as inefficient as possible to avoid getting the job done. Rather than say, “I’m having trouble with this project,” a passive-aggressive person may procrastinate on purpose in the hope that someone else will take over.
5. Mask Their Resentment With a Smile
Passive-aggressive people don’t express their anger or displeasure in an open manner. Many of them have years of resentment and bitterness built up, often lurking just beneath a phony smile. No matter how much they disagree with what you’re saying, they’ll work hard to appear as though they fully support your statements.
6. Seek Revenge
Hidden beneath their outwardly agreeable personas is a desire to punish those who have hurt them. Passive-aggressive people often go to great lengths to retaliate against individuals they believe have taken advantage of them. Their plots for revenge are often indirect—an anonymous angry email or a nasty rumor spread through the office are just a couple of the approaches they may take.
7. Exhibit Learned Helplessness
Passive-aggressive people don’t believe they have much control over the events in their lives. Rather than take steps to solve problems, they convince themselves, “There’s no use trying, because I can’t do anything about it anyway.” This passive approach unnecessarily subjects them to more hardship and, unfortunately, many of their negative predictions turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.
8. Go to Great Lengths to Avoid Confrontation
Even when they’re deeply offended, passive-aggressive people avoid direct confrontation. Sometimes, they offer incongruent communication, by saying things like, “That’s fine. Whatever!” or “Well, if you don’t care about my feelings, then I guess you don’t need to do that.” They allow others to treat them poorly, and refuse to admit their feelings are hurt.
9. Manipulate People
Passive-aggressive people struggle to ask for what they want, and resort to manipulative tactics to get their needs met. Instead of asking for help carrying a box, a passive-aggressive person may complain, “I’m probably going to hurt my back carrying that box upstairs all by myself.” They don’t mind others feeling sorry for them or taking pity on them—as long as it works to get their needs met.
Addressing Passive-Aggressive Behavior
If you’re prone to taking a passive-aggressive approach to life, there are steps you can take to become more assertive. When your words are in line with your emotions and your behavior, you’ll enjoy a much more authentic life. And if you spot signs of a passive-aggressive co-worker, friend, or family member, be willing to hold that person accountable. Allowing passive-aggressive people to shirk responsibility or avoid confrontation only reinforces their behavior.