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Passive-Aggressive Behaviour - What is it?

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. It has also been described as "sugar-coated" hostility. Of those who display it, there is an underlying fear and avoidance of direct conflict, yet a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness.

There is a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does. For example, a passive-aggressive person might appear to agree — perhaps even enthusiastically — with another person's request. Rather than complying with the request, however, he or she might express anger or resentment by failing to follow through or missing deadlines.

Passive-Aggressive behaviour can include:

  • Sarcasm

  • Hostile attitude

  • Sabotage (intentional mistakes in response to others' demands)

  • Withholding of intimacy

  • Withholding of praise

  • Resentment to the demands of others

  • Being critical

  • Not doing something that's asked of him/her

  • Frequent complaints about feeling underappreciated or cheated

How do you deal with passive-aggressive behaviour?

1. Identify the behavior for what it is: hostility. Once you recognize it's a sign of hostility, it emboldens you to deal with it.

2. Set limits -- and then follow through. Make it clear that you won't tolerate being mistreated.

3. Talk specifically -- not generally. If you're going to confront a passive-aggressive person, be clear about the issue at hand.

4. Practice assertive communication.

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