10 Passive-Aggressive Things You Probably Do—& How To Stop

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and not being totally in love with everyone you encounter in the workplace. You don't get to be surrounded exclusively by your best friends, but you do have to figure out how to get along with key players — it's part of being an adult. But, that doesn't mean it's easy. Human dynamics come into play, sometimes in ways we don't even realize. Conflicts arise, people react, and, "at some point, we are all guilty of behaving passive aggressively," says Laura MacLeod, creator of From The Inside Out Project, a program which helps coworkers improve communication. In addition to passive aggression making interpersonal office relationships strained, it also hinders productivity and progress at work, MacLeod says.
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It may start subtly — you roll your eyes when yet another annoying email pops up from that person who got promoted to the job you wanted, or you back-burner tasks that she asks you to do. And, it may progress — you choose the stairs over the elevator or hide in a bathroom stall in order to avoid run-ins with that person who called you out in front of a client. You know it's immature behavior, and you want to disengage, and yet you still feel rankled. Being aware of your own passive aggression — and nipping it in the bud — is a first step toward clearer, more positive communications at work, MacLeod says. No one wants to be that toxic office personality, and learning how to deal with conflict constructively can actually progress your career, she notes. Click through to see if you might be guilty of these 10 passive-aggressive behaviors, and get the experts' take on how to fix them.
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Whenever Jane's name comes up — in conversation or on an email chain — you feel your stomach sink. Maybe it's because of that snide comment she let slip in the kitchen, or that time she accepted credit for your idea in the staff meeting. You wait awhile to reply to her emails (you have more important things to do!), or maybe you don't respond at all. This is passive aggression, says MacLeod.

How To Stop
Having intuitive reactions to certain people is behavior you need to listen to and address right away. "It's important to take a step back and question why you're reacting the way you are," says MacLeod. Once you assess what your issue is, you can determine whether you can handle it on your own or if you need to address the specific person — or if you need the company's help.
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You can't make eye contact, or you give clipped, one-word answers to someone who's really bugging you? That passive-aggressiveness has reached another level, says MacLeod. Gesturing, like offering a shrug or a nod in lieu of a verbal response, also creates problematic dynamics.

How To Stop
"The question is, how did it get to this point, and can it be fixed?" MacLeod says. When you get to the point that you're refusing to speak to or look at a coworker, she notes, step back and look at what's bothering you. If you've tried to resolve it, this may be an issue better abandoned than forced. The best solution may in fact be transferring departments, teams or even companies.
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If you just avoid the person — come to work early, leave late, pretend to be on the phone when he walks over to your desk — the issue will eventually go away, right? While that may feel like the easiest way to avoid a confrontation, it's just a classic passive-aggressive move that creates bigger problems than if you had just confronted the person to begin with, says Brian Carter, co-author of The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice on How to Get Your Dream Job and Make More Money.

How To Stop
"When it comes to confrontation, I point to my co-author Garrison Wynn's motto: 'Disagreement is the foundation of true agreement,'" says Carter. "You can't get on the same page until you've disagreed on it. People have different conflict styles, but you're always more at risk if you avoid it all together." He suggests approaching the person with the intention to listen rather than immediately getting your points across. "When people feel heard, that's just magical," Carter says. "People won't accept change from someone who they think doesn't care about them. If you don't attempt to care, you're undermining your ability to be influential."
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Joining in on the office rumblings — whether about the meager holiday bonuses or an interoffice romance whose timing seems coincidental with a promotion — may feel like you're harmlessly bonding with coworkers. But, unless gossip leads to fixing issues, it's not doing you any favors. Plus, if you're fueling rumors, that may be a sign that there's a bigger issue (or insecurity) for you under the surface.

How To Stop
Since calling out gossip and making everyone feel bad about it can backfire, get to the root of the issue instead, says Carter. "Sometimes, it's just a lack of leadership. People will follow you when you're the positive example." Ask questions. Instead of griping with a coworker about how the boss gives John preferential treatment, try saying, "You really worked hard on that project with John. Is it possible the boss doesn't realize that?" By pointing people to their fears, it can help them realize their issues are less about others and more about themselves.
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Sometimes, voicing your opinions at work is like walking a tightrope. You might think saying, "Sure, that's fine," each time your idea gets steamrolled makes you a team player. But, if you don't truly believe it's fine, re-evaluate: Is it more important to please everybody else, or stand up for your convictions?

How To Stop
"Freedom from fear of other people's opinions gives you the freedom to excel," Carter says. Speaking up could show your boss that you're strong and have integrity, and it could lead to subsequent projects or promotions. Or, you could be reprimanded if you misjudge the situation. Either way, choose your battles, but don't allow yourself to become passive aggressive as a result of letting some things slide.
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Trying to evade blame for missed deadlines or sub-par work are clear passive-aggressive moves says Signe Whitson, Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute, which offers online training for changing passive-aggressive behavior. She's also the author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces. According to Whitson, if you catch yourself saying things like I wasn't trained on how to do that or No one told me, "It's likely that you're being inefficient on purpose because you're angry about something."

How To Stop
"When confronted about substandard work, the passive aggressive person plays the victim, claiming a boss has unrealistic expectations," Whitson says. First off, stop identifying as a victim. Every job requires work that you might not love. And, sometimes it's in those moments that you can prove you're an asset, eager to take on busywork as well exciting projects. Do some contemplating over the source of your anger — and talk to someone about it if you can't resolve it on your own.
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Procrastination is a classic passive-aggressive tactic, says Whitson. "The more an employee verbally agrees to a task, but behaviorally delays its completion, the more he interrupts workflow and frustrates others," says Whitson.

How To Stop
Once again, get at the root of why you're behaving this way. If it's because you're not feeling heard, talk to your supervisor; or, if your supervisor is the issue, consider paying HR a visit. If you're procrastinating because someone else did the same to you with a past project, "Ask yourself why you're spending valuable time and energy trying to hurt someone who probably has zero idea what they did in the first place," says MacLeod. And, note that your procrastination may be a sign of something deeper — like that perhaps the job or company itself is no longer the right fit for you.
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"Passive-aggressive workers often commit crimes of omission in the workplace," says Whitson. For example, choosing not to remind a coworker about a meeting because you "thought he knew about it."

How To Stop
Even if you don't care for one of your teammates, remember that helping him might just help you in the long run too. Chances are, he won't forget you saved him from missing that meeting and will want to pay it forward. "We're set up to feel good when we help other people," says Carter. When it doubt, take the high road.
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Forwarding an email without comment or bcc-ing someone who wasn't on the original thread are common passive aggressive moves, says Mary Ellen Slayter, a career advice expert at Monster. "We all know we're suddenly on that email to be told that this person is an idiot. You haven't resolved the conflict — you're just allowing it to fester, and you're spreading the poison to others," she says.

How To Stop
"No argument has been successfully won via email. You may think you won, but it's a lie," she says. If you have an issue with someone's email, call him or talk in person instead of secretly involving other coworkers.
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"If you find yourself constantly complaining about all the drama at work, ask yourself what's the common denominator in all this drama? It's you," says Slayter. Chances are there's drama because people, including you, are being passive aggressive.

How To Stop
Be honest with yourself, and own up to your contributions to the drama. Then, consider how to eliminate your role in it. Slayter recommends looking into assertiveness training, or even joining a Toastmasters club in your area. "Being assertive and being aggressive aren't the same thing," she says. "Learn how to calmly express your concerns, and know which battles to fight and which to let go," she says. "And, if you let go, really let it go."
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