How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

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Published Date|
May 2, 2023

How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Behaviour


You can tell when someone is annoyed with you.


They might give you subtle eye-rolls, or claim they “forget” to complete a task you really needed them to complete.


But when you ask them if there’s a problem, they tell you that “everything is fine.”


Passive-aggressive behaviour can be tricky – but if you’re able to call it out in a healthy way, you can stop it from escalating into a larger problem.


Here at KMA Therapy, we know you want to have healthy communication in your personal and professional relationships. For over 14 years, we’ve been helping our clients learn the skills they need to have the positive relationships they deserve.


After reading this article, you’ll know how to recognize passive-aggressive behaviour and learn five ways to stop it from ruining your relationships.


What is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?


Passive-aggressive behaviour happens when someone finds indirect ways to express negative feelings instead of being upfront and honest about what they’re experiencing.


Passive-aggressiveness is a pattern of finding other ways to express discontent without ever confirming a problem.


Examples of passive-aggressive behaviour include:


  • Agreeing to do something, but then having a bad attitude the whole time
  • Acting upset, but always saying “No, I’m fine”
  • Pouting, sighing, or eye-rolling
  • Back-handed compliments
  • Responding with sarcasm


What Causes Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?


Many things can cause passive-aggressive behaviour, from family upbringing to specific situations where someone doesn’t feel comfortable expressing their true emotions.


Other causes of passive-aggressive behaviour include feeling uncomfortable with direct confrontation or experiencing mental health challenges.


5 Ways to Deal with Passive Aggressive Behaviour in Others


Handling someone’s passive-aggressive behaviour can be difficult – especially when they move from being somewhat sullen to straight-up mean.


Here are five ways you can help minimize someone’s passive-aggressive behaviour.


1. Be Direct and Honest


Sometimes, people behave in passive-aggressive ways because they aren’t sure how else to express their emotions.


Creating a safe, judgement-free environment can give someone an outlet to express their true feelings without fearing if there will be consequences for speaking up.


For example, if you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive colleague, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help lighten their workload. Co-workers might behave passive-aggressively because they’re asked to take on a lot of extra tasks with no recognition or support.


This strategy works best when dealing with someone who is typically good at communicating but is behaving passive-aggressively in a specific situation. Letting them know you’re there to listen can be a great way to navigate a stressful situation together.


2. Set Strong Boundaries


If having an open conversation doesn’t work, it’s time to set some boundaries.


Continually accepting someone else’s passive-aggressive attitude will only enable them to continue behaving in the same way. Having a clear conversation about how their behaviour makes you feel, and setting expectations about how you’d prefer to be treated, helps set a standard for what you’re willing to accept.

most common passive-aggressive phrases


3. Support Positive Behaviour


When dealing with someone who often resorts to passive-aggressive behaviour, it can help to recognize when they do things you appreciate or communicate effectively.


If they let you know exactly how they’re feeling, tell them you appreciate their honesty. This can help them feel supported, and help them feel more confident being direct in the future.


4. Examine Your Own Behaviour


Sometimes, we behave passive-aggressively without even realizing it – it can be easier to call out someone else’s behaviour than recognize our own faults.


Someone else’s passive-aggressive actions may be a response to your own!


Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re behaving passive-aggressively:


  • Do you avoid people when you’re upset with them?
  • Do you find yourself sulking when someone upsets you?
  • Do you struggle to address situations when you’re unhappy?


Being self-aware of your own actions is a great first step to take. Practising how to express yourself in healthier ways can help to improve your relationships.


5. Practice Excellent Self-Care


Whether you’re addressing your own passive-aggressive behaviour or someone else’s, it’s important to give yourself grace and practice self-care.


There are six types of self-care to give to yourself:

  • Social
  • Mental
  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Practical
  • Emotional

Learn more by reading What are the Six Types of Self-Care?


Next Steps for Healthier Communication


After reading this article, you know how to recognize passive-aggressive behaviour in others and in yourself, and five ways to tackle it.


Here at KMA Therapy, we know you sometimes need a bit of extra support to achieve a healthy level of communication in your professional and personal relationships. Our talented team of therapists has been helping our clients improve their communication skills for over 14 years.


Book an appointment today or connect with our team to learn more.


If you’re not yet ready to book an appointment, check out these articles to keep learning:


Author |
Emily Weatherhead
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