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I would love to have some general advice on dealing with passive-aggressive people -- particularly those that are peers. So much of their bad behavior resides in comments that SEEM okay on the surface, but the tone or something else about it tells you that they are being weasely. Another observed behavior might be "throwing people under the bus." For instance, waiting to out an issue until it's in a large group meeting of peers or in front of a business partner instead of having a one-on-one discussion.

I realize the answer might be "feedback." The problem I have with this particular personality type is that they are snipers. I'm either left wondering what they REALLY mean or I'm speechless at their rude and unprofessional behavior.

cwatine's picture

I read an excellent comment/advice on this forum. I can't remember you did it. I think it was from us41.
He said something like : "when you are confronted to a person playing this kind of games, the best answer is to become a better manager. Communicate better. For each negative comment they make, make two positives that will help the company. For each nasty manipulative comment, give a positive feedback to a good achiever in your team. Etc"
The idea was : you can't make your peers better, but you can make yourself better.
Passive agressive people try to make you overreact and make you look bad. Dont play their game.

Can you be more detailed (behaviours) about what you call "passive-agressive" ?

cwatine's picture

I read an excellent comment/advice on this forum. I can't remember who did it. I think it was from us41.
He said something like : "when you are confronted to a person playing this kind of games, the best answer is to become a better manager. Communicate better. For each negative comment they make, make two positives that will help the company. For each nasty manipulative comment, give a positive feedback to a good achiever in your team. Etc"
The idea was : you can't make your peers better especially when they are passive agressive, but you can make yourself better.
Passive agressive people try to make you overreact and make you look bad. Dont play their game.

Can you be more detailed (behaviours) about what you call "passive-agressive" ?

AManagerTool's picture

I got someone like that. I get pissed. I rant alone in my office or to my wife and I pretend as if it doesn't bother me when I walk outside my office or meet the guy in the hall. I even minimialize the damage reports that others give me about what he says about me. My results speak for themselves....and so do his.

There is always Terry Tate....
[url]http://www.manager-tools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3359[/url]

kklogic's picture

Thanks, guys!

Specific behavior. I was trying to avoid this should any of these individuals read these boads :) I'll try to make this as generic as I can.

For instance, when asked where they are a project when we're in a large meeting, one of these people might say, "I'm waiting on X from kklogic." Whereas a normal person would have had a conversation with me privately about what they are expecting from me. If I wasn't reacting fast enough, they should talk to my boss instead of doing this in front of half of the company. At the very least, I would say something like, "I have this project on my radar. I'm waiting for a few items from other departments. I'll follow up with them by EOB today and give you an update tomorow AM" instead of the "throw your co-workers under the bus" option.

I can give others, ced - but that's pretty indicative of what I'm talking about. Purposefully sabotaging and making others look bad for their own gain. Being underhanded about making negative comments. Being defensive all of the time. Stepping into my job responsibilities even though this person knows darned well it's not their job. High C, if it helps to know that.

Tool, you had me laughing. I love that you post so honestly and openly. You rock.

cwatine's picture

I understand.

This is really bad. It is also complicated to give them feedback on that because you risk to get an answer like : "oh I see, you dont want the others to see you are ineffective". Or worst no answer and they would tell others : "hey you know kklogic came to me to influence me not to say he was late on the project". I hate that.

My feeling is if this behaviour happens often publicly and if each time they get a proper answer from you : "the project is on track and I sent you the information yesterday. Is there anything we could do to better communicate ?". People around feel you are in control and willing to improve.

They indirectly are helping you to get better!

HMac's picture

Feedback.

There. I had to say it. :lol:

Seriously - I find that pointing out and questioning behavior is HUGE when I'm dealing with folks like this.

[list][i]"The look on your face seems to be telling me you don't agree"

"You were slow to answer there. Are some there some concerns or disagreements we should surface?"[/i][/list:u]

My strategy with passive poeple is to try not let let things go unspoken, unsurfaced, unacknowledged. Look - it doesn't work sometimes, but at least I'm trying to build an environment where communication is welcomed...

-Hugh

tlhausmann's picture

[quote="kklogic"]Whereas a normal person would have had a conversation with me privately about what they are expecting from me. If I wasn't reacting fast enough, they should talk to my boss instead of doing this in front of half of the company. [/quote]

You need a professional way of communicating the "Ouch!"

I actually said at a meeting once "Ouch, you seem very upset by that" and then let the person keep talking to learn more about the situation.

To AManagerTool I recommend not bottling it all inside.

Conflict is problem solving with emotion mixed in.

HMac is right feedback is appropriate when not in a group. Making a leading statement to encourage more communication is spot on.

US41's picture

[quote="kklogic"]Specific behavior... For instance, when asked where they are a project when we're in a large meeting, one of these people might say, "I'm waiting on X from kklogic." Whereas a normal person would have had a conversation with me privately about what they are expecting from me. [/quote]

Peer Feedback. :D

"When you say in an open meeting you are waiting on me for something in front of our boss, and I haven't heard from you directly on it, it's like you are trying to sabotage my reputation or finger point at me. Would you stop it, please?"

Most bosses detect this kind of thing pretty easily and it is either ineffective because the boss sees it for what it is or simply doesn't see it as making you look that bad since they expect that sort of thing to happen and think their meeting is a good place to bring it up "because we are a family."

Don't let yourself get too ticked off about it.

lucaminudel's picture

[quote="kklogic"]I would love to have some general advice on dealing with passive-aggressive people -- ... [/quote]

How to relates positively with a person when he/she has a passive-aggressive behaviour?

Just be yourself and count on your relational abilities.
“Why?” is a magic question, use it.

Be emphatic: try to understand the point of view of the other person, his feelings, his needs, his fears, his aims. And ask yourself how passive-aggressive people can deal with you.

Try *not* to express judgements or evaluations instead describe what you see, describe the impact that it can have on you on others on the project, describe what you feel.

Pay attention to distinguish what you see from what you interpret and what you fell. Be open and honest. Be consistent, continuous and steady on your main needs, aims and priorities. Be as strong as flexible.

And remember that to relate with a person is not like doing karate, it is more like dancing.

Do practice.

rthibode's picture

[quote="HMac"]

Seriously - I find that pointing out and questioning behavior is HUGE when I'm dealing with folks like this.

[list][i]"The look on your face seems to be telling me you don't agree"

"You were slow to answer there. Are some there some concerns or disagreements we should surface?"[/i][/list:u]

-Hugh[/quote]

Great stuff, Hugh! My peer and I are new to managing the team and we are very keen to allow open and healthy conflict into our staff meetings. When I read your post, a light bulb went on for me. I say things like this to directs all the time, but only one-on-one.

Thanks

sklosky's picture

kklogic,

I have some observations.

1. Your work relationship with this person is not good.
2. Your work style is very different than this person.

I have some suggestions.

1. Do things to strengthen your work relationship with this other person. Things like feedback, grabbing a coffee, discussing non-work related stuff, showing genuine interests in things that interest them (family, sports, hobbies?).
2. Take steps to learn that person's style. Observe behaviours. Observe reactions to situations.
3. Pre-wire him/her prior to large meetings. I think this will minimize unpleasant suprises.

Just my 2 cents.

Good luck,
Steve

lucaminudel's picture

[quote="sklosky"]kklogic,

I have some observations.

1. Your work relationship with this person is not good.
2. Your work style is very different than this person.

I have some suggestions.

1. Do things to strengthen your work relationship with this other person... [/quote]

Probably in the beginning you have to make the effort to start a relationship with this person.

After that point you need to ask yourself if the relationship motivation is the essence of that person rather than expectation of performance of that person.

If it is not, you have to find another way because in that way it could possibly work in the short term but it wil not work in the medium/long term.

bflynn's picture

This isn't a "nice" answer, but it can be very effective. Let the b*****ds hang themselves. If they're trying to play politics by talking about you or pointing out your deficiencies, wait until you see their pattern, then let them set themselves up. When you're asked about it, you can report successful completion or mitigation or whatever you're supposed to be doing with your issue. They are exposed for what they are and you can get back to doing what you really need to do. You must be careful to do nothing unethical and never lie. But that doesn't mean you have to provide them with all their ammunition.

What's bad about this is that it wastes some of your time. However, once they're exposed once as saying something bad about someone untruly, their power is pretty much gone. Every time they do it in the future, it will be questioned whether what they're saying is true or not.

As I said, its not a nice way to do it, there's no flowers and rainbows in the picture. Sometimes you do have to use politics to clear away obstacles so you can be more effective. In that light, this is the right thing to do because its the effective thing for the good of the company.

Unfortunately, there are people and places in this world where politics are the only recourse.

Brian

cwatine's picture

Well, I can understand the subject can be upsetting.

At the same time I still think the situation has to be "coldly" analysed with the purpose of not harming the company by playing the game you are trying to fight.

Even, the term "passive aggressive PEOPLE" is dangerous in my opinion. This is labelling. Such people dont exist. So there is no universal receipe.

You are confronted to a certain kind of behaviours and it makes you feel they are the sign this person has passive aggressive attitude at that time, at that place and in your direction.

Are they repetitive?
Do they harm the company?
Are they specifically targetting you?
Why are they like this to you?
Is it really harming you?
Why react to those?
... are in my opinion questions to be addressed because the answer can only be specific and not general.

One big lesson I was given by a friend was (I got angry quiet often at that time) : "when you get angry at someone, analyse deeply why. It is always the best source of information about yourself"

cwatine's picture

[quote="US41"]
Peer Feedback. :D
"When you say in an open meeting you are waiting on me for something in front of our boss, and I haven't heard from you directly on it, it's like you are trying to sabotage my reputation or finger point at me. Would you stop it, please?"
.[/quote]

I am wondering if this is real feedback. Isn't it a little bit like (very smartly) drawing a conclusion about the other person's intention?
If you say this to me I feel you are judging me like saying : "you have bad intention". It immediately puts me defensive or wanting to strike back.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate to be a little softer (at least for the first time):
"When you say in an open meeting you are waiting on me for something in front of our boss, and I haven't heard from you directly on it, it places me in a unconfortable position and I think it is not an efficient way to collaborate . Can we find another way, please?"

bug_girl's picture

This is a topic of great interest to me, although I have passive-aggressive directs, not peers.

What I have begun to do is to simply set clear goals and dates that things need to get done by. The nasty comments/sniping continues, but there is now actual work getting done.

This also gives me something tangible to talk about in one-on ones other than "my, you certainly seem snarky this morning!"

Frankly, it's not a big secret that these people have [i]issues[/i], so my getting results out of them just makes me look good. (I just got a raise, BTW!)

I'd just let your passive aggressive go on being annoying, since it's likely your boss knows the score. Feedback focused on how *you* feel might also help--"when you do X, I feel Y."

Ideally, I'd like to get my folks to a place that they can relate well to others, but first we need to get work done. Changing personalities and behavior patterns is not a speedy, or easy process. And sometimes you can't do it at all. :(

bug_girl's picture

Oh--my earlier post about personality/behavior change reminded me of a joke we used to tell in the Dean's Office:

Q: How many cognitive psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None--the light bulb has to [i]want[/i] to change first.

AManagerTool's picture

That's the first cognitive psychologist joke that I have ever heard!

There's nothing funny about cognitive psychology! Nothing!

:lol:

cwatine's picture

[quote="bug_girl"] (I just got a raise, BTW!)
[/quote]

Wonderfull news. Congratulations!

US41's picture

[quote="cedwat"][quote="US41"]
Peer Feedback. :D
"When you say in an open meeting you are waiting on me for something in front of our boss, and I haven't heard from you directly on it, it's like you are trying to sabotage my reputation or finger point at me. Would you stop it, please?"
.[/quote]

I am wondering if this is real feedback. Isn't it a little bit like (very smartly) drawing a conclusion about the other person's intention?
If you say this to me I feel you are judging me like saying : "you have bad intention". It immediately puts me defensive or wanting to strike back.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate to be a little softer (at least for the first time):
"When you say in an open meeting you are waiting on me for something in front of our boss, and I haven't heard from you directly on it, it places me in a unconfortable position and I think it is not an efficient way to collaborate . Can we find another way, please?"[/quote]

In fact I would say the opposite. Feedback tells the other person the consequences of their behavior in concrete terms. In my example, the I observed their behavior and saw finger pointing and perhaps a strategic purpose to it. In your example, you didn't explain why you felt uncomfortable and didn't say what you mean by efficient nor collaborate.

I've got some strong, high, high D coworkers. And sometimes to give peer feedback requires that I show them just how bad what they were doing looks, otherwise they will judge the consequences as acceptable.

If you gave me your feedback, I would think, "Good. I like you uncomfortable and it was very efficient to me. Mission accomplished."

If I received my feedback, I would think, "Holy cow. They think I am trying to destroy them. I had better change."

I think the listener, not the speaker, determines the intensity of the consequences statement you make.

bflynn's picture

An extension of "communications is done by the listener". You have to deliver a message the the listener cares about.

In all this, I think there has been an assumption of goodwill on the other person's part. If the goodwill is missing, then feedback will do nothing. If I gave the same feedback to someone who didn't care, they would hear "He thinks I'm trying to destroy him, I must have tipped my hand. I'll have to be more careful."

Intentions don't matter with feedback. But they matter greatly with politics. Feedback might not be the most effective choice in a political situation.

Brian

cwatine's picture

I agree, partly.

Feedback in the MT sense works if the listener has a minimal will to listen and receive (this why we have step 1 : "can I give you some feedback").

Feedback has to be progressive and repetitive over time. Leave time for change.

This is why I still find the feedback from us41 too strong. Saying : "It's like trying to sabotage my reputation" is very next to saying : "you are trying to do it". Showing you already draw a conclusion about the other's intention.
Maybe a translation issue here, but it sounds like "when you come late, it could make me think you are a lazy pig" (it sounds like feedback but it is not. It is labelling.)

If you are sure the intention of the other is to sabotage your reputation, why use feedback ? Why not directly get to him and say : "hey, I dont like what you are trying to do, stop it, okay?" Or if the issue is really annoying why not say to your boss : "I hope you dont take X's remarks seriously. He is trying to sabotage my reputation, I am on time on my projects."

Feedback has its place if the other is ready to listen and you still have a doubt about his purposes.

Politics is a very vague term and iit is very difficult to address. It is also company specific.

corinag's picture

My guess is some things are cultural.

Back here, there's a lot of CYA going on in companies, and passive aggressive behavior is wonderful for shifting blame without appearing that you are shifting blame. It makes it easier to avoid owning up to failure, or delays. It's never your responsibility, you would have done wonders had you been in ideal circumstances, but someone is not doing their job and thus you are inconvenienced.

Also, in this country a lot of people are running before they can walk (i.e. they get promoted to management without ascending the corporate ladder and learning along the way, mostly on the strength of their "technical" skills). This is natural, because in post-communist countries western management was only discovered 18 years ago, and there's massive amounts of new positions, and not enough people to fill them. (Incidentally, I am also more senior here then I would be abroad, given my age and my experience). So many people have not learned how to behave in management roles. There's still a mentality that you've got to show you're better than the others, but instead of working harder, they choose to subtly belittle others, to look good by comparison.

There's not much one can do, except perform as well as one can, and try not to get conned into playing the same game.

mtietel's picture

I think ced's objection is with the consequence part of US41's original idea ("it's like you are trying to sabotage me" isn't really a consequence) and, of course, doing this in public means it's not feedback in the MT sense...

Action - "When you say it in front of the boss instead of coming to me directly, here's what happens..."

Consequence:
I - "I'm less likely to want to collaborate with you in the future."

S - "I worry that you've broken our bond of trust."

C - "You look like you're disorganized and unable to follow proper protocols."

D - "The boss thinks you can't manage the project without her help."

Some of the examples are a bit over the top, but with adjusting feedback you're looking for negative consequences for *them*.

bflynn's picture

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but if you're in a CYA environment, each of these has the potential to backfire.

[quote="mtietel"]Action - "When you say it in front of the boss instead of coming to me directly, here's what happens..."

Consequence:
I - "I'm less likely to want to collaborate with you in the future."[/quote]
If you don't want to collaborate, I'll just make sure I casually drop this to the boss soon..."Bob says he doesn't want to collaborate in the future. Maybe he isn't the right person for his job."

[quote="mtietel"]S - "I worry that you've broken our bond of trust."[/quote]
We didn't have trust in the first place. I only did that because you messed up. Get on board, this is how we work here, if you can't cut it, you're a liability.

[quote="mtietel"]C - "You look like you're disorganized and unable to follow proper protocols."[/quote]
No, the boss knows that [b]I'm[/b] organized. My work is right, if only other people like you would step up to the plate so I could deliver.

[quote="mtietel"]D - "The boss thinks you can't manage the project without her help."[/quote]
Yeah? Well you can't! You're the one who messed things up and now you can't deal with it. I'm fine.

Feedback only works if the person is engaged in the first place. If you're in a toxic environment (get out and) feedback isn't going to work. Communications is what the listener does. If they're not listening, you shouldn't be giving feedback....CYA or not.

Brian

kklogic's picture

Lots of great stuff. I'd love Mark to chime in on this one.

For the record, yes - I believe the person in question is doing this as a CYA move. They are big on PR for their department (Our department did XYZ - with no mention of the hard work other departments have done to get that work out the door on time).

cwatine's picture

Sorry, what are CYA and PR?
Thanks,

About politics: I suppose we name "politics" everything that is done by someone with the only purpose of placing him at advantage in the eyes of his boss or the organization, even if it harms the company or is not a clear description of reality. And passive-agressive actions are included in that.

It means that the way we should react in front of it is very dependant on the organization tolerance to it. There are environment where politics are seen as "just another way to succeed". There are others where "it is considered as harming the collaboration and the execution".

As you will not change the culture of your company, you will adapt the FORM of your actions to it.

And ... I still think the following advices still apply:

- get a chance to talk to the person who has p/a attitude in order to understand why, show her it is a problem for you and give her a chance to change before taking any action

- for every "bad practice" you are confronted to, try to do a better job as a manager (instead of playing the game of looking better by making the others look worse, just look better by being better!)

- report to your boss about your job in a clear way (including : complaining if someone is playing dirty game that harm the project and is taking the chance to make him look bad at the end!, including : communicating to him if you feel you will be late on the project, never let any one else communicate this kind of news instead of you!)

jhack's picture

CYA: Cover your [butt].

PR: Public Relations (self promotion in this context)

John

cwatine's picture

Oh, I see... Thank you John.

corinag's picture

To chime in, on a tangent:

Not all "politics" is done for self advancement, contrary or indifferent to org. objectives and benefits.

Organizations are a bit like micro-models of the economy: limited resources, multiple needs, and opportunity costs for every choice. To carry the analogy further: balancing them to ensure the survival and growth of the organization are acts of "government". There is politics in every organization, but most people play their part in them legitimately, to secure the resources they need. Passive-aggressive people are like the politicians that get by with mud-slinging, rather than a genuine platform.

My point here is that we should not ignore the reality of politics in an org., or vilify it, but instead vilify those who play the game, and try to milk it for their own benefit, rather than the organization.