His workplace resume reads something like this:

Work History
• Avoiding responsibility for tasks
• Doing less when asked for more
• Missing deadlines
• Withholding information

Professional Activities
• Leaving notes and using e-mail to avoid face-to-face communication
• Arriving late to work; extending lunch break
• Using sick days during major team projects
• Resisting suggestions for change or improvement

Special Qualifications
• "Forgetting" and "misplacing" important documents
• Embarrassing co-workers during meetings and presentations
• Justifying behavior with plausible explanations
• Consistently behaving this way across most workplace situations

Does someone in your office boast these passive aggressive credentials?

Passive aggression is a deliberate and masked way of expressing hidden anger. In many workplace settings, where adults spend the majority of their waking hours and corporate hierarchies inhibit direct expression of feelings, the passive aggressive employee is able to sabotage everything from individual deadlines to department morale to organizational productivity. It is critical that employers be able to recognize passive aggressive behaviors in the workplace before they negatively impact output and efficiency. Do any of your workers exhibit these common tactics of passive aggressive workers?

Temporary Compliance
The passive aggressive employee often feels underappreciated and expresses his underlying anger through temporary compliance. Though he verbally agrees to a task, he behaviorally delays its completion, by procrastinating, "forgetting" important deadlines, "misplacing" documents, or arriving late. For the passive aggressive worker who feels under-acknowledged by colleagues and management, acts of temporary compliance are most satisfying.

Intentional Inefficiency
The passive aggressive worker feels it is more important to express his covert hostility than to maintain his appearance of professional competence. He uses intentional inefficiency to complete work in a purposefully unacceptable way:

Tom felt snubbed when passed over for a promotion. He decided to go about his job in a new way; the quantity of his output did not change, but his work became marred with missed details, important omissions, and critical errors. Though Tom never missed a deadline and took on every requested assignment, the quality of his final product had a way of creating embarrassing moments for unsuspecting supervisors caught presenting misinformation.

To protect your office from the passive aggressive saboteur, look out for employees whose work is consistently at or below minimum standards, who insists "no one told me," and who personalizes any confrontations from authority, playing up their role as victim.

Letting a Problem Escalate
Teamwork and communication are key to productivity in the workplace. When a passive aggressive employee withholds important information or deliberately fails to stop a momentary glitch from turning into an irreversible gaffe, entire operations can be halted or even shut down. The (mis)use of sick days is an area of particular vulnerability in the workplace:

Brenda called in sick the day before a major deadline, knowing that her presence was critical to her department’s success. She took great pleasure in single-handedly foiling the quarterly report and in the resulting company-wide affirmation that without her, the department could not succeed.

Sabotage is the name of the game for the passive aggressive employee who justifies her characteristic crimes of omission by saying, "I didn’t do anything."

Hidden but Conscious Revenge
In contrast to the inaction that marks the previous tactic, some workers use covert actions to get back at superiors against whom they hold a grudge. The passive aggressive employee is keenly aware that the person with whom he is angry has enough power and authority to make his professional life miserable, so he decides it is not safe to confront him directly. Whether it be through spreading gossip that maligns the boss’s reputation or planting a computer virus that shuts down office IT systems for a week, the passive aggressive employee feels justified in taking secret revenge in the workplace.

By the nature of their covert acts, passive aggressive employees are skilled at evading the long arm of the workplace law. Unchecked, a compliant rule-breaker can have a major impact on an organization’s productivity and morale. When employers understand the warning signs and quickly recognize passive aggressive patterns, they can protect their workplaces from being the unwitting victim of this ideal office crime.

Managing Passive Aggression in Workplaces

If you are a veteran of “office wars,” then perhaps you have experienced a lot of backstabbing, sabotage and nasty behaviors, right? As a normal consequence, you think that there is very little to be done to control this competitive behavior. You have become resigned to a certain degree of aggression every day in the office.

The ones that bother most are not the openly competitive people, because you know what they want, and there are no surprises in them getting ahead to snag the best projects, and commissions. What you don’t prepare for is the slow sabotage of certain people who feign cooperation and dedication, only to produce consistent failures.

If you were expecting someone to do a shared project, and your own evaluation is supposed to be in the whole project, but one part is not forthcoming, then what do you do? There were lots of promises, guarantees and strong words, but no results. And you don’t know if to believe this person, or to accept that the project is doomed and you are responsible very soon to report a failure.

Here is when the rubber meets the road: you are realizing that his delay is intentional and focused on making you fail! Difficult to believe, but no other plausible explanations are around, so you need to accept you’ve been blindsided by this person.

What do you do: have a strong discussion or say nothing? Knowing that a passive aggressive person won’t fight back, they can clam up, give you the cold shoulder, tell you what you want to hear, or burst into tears and run away.

If you show your anger, the PA will be less cooperative, stop communicating and confirm that you are his enemy, so becoming more hostile and resentful, even to the point of planning his revenge. Then, how do you manage this potentially explosive situation?

For some reason we have been conditioned to avoid any kind of open confrontation, even the healthy ones, and to try to keep up with a forced situation that doesn’t deserve to be called “peace,” but an angry truce.

Let’s go back to the basic situation, where you are a team leader, or a manager, and you have someone in your team behaving in this way. Of course, you know that this person is immature, that his PA behavior is a defense mechanism, and all that. Anyhow, this person is not responding to you!

Now, it becomes really personal…and you shift from an outsider’s view to a very interested insider, because the action is against you or your work objectives…You suddenly realize that the passive aggressive person’s goal is an attempt to control his environment, meaning by that you and your responses. He is controlling at least the time of delivery of this shared project!

What can you do? If you have identified already the presence of this kind of behavior, you know that you have always to design an alternative plan “B” which can provide you with the extra help needed to deliver the project done in time and quality.

If not, then the choice is to continue expecting from him the delivery of his task, or replacing him. In both ways, the “solution” will leave a bad taste in the relationship. The first lesson, “never trust your own evaluation to the hands of other person who cold be passive aggressive,” is learnt. In brief, control your expectations, parcel out important tasks so there are several responsible people involved, and re-check frequently to see how much delay the PA can generate before you stop him.

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