A co-worker who is not up to par can be frustrating. But it’s comforting to know that more than likely your bosses will understand.
A passive-aggressive colleague uses specific tactics that prevent management from spotting their lack of initiative. They seem to comply with demands, but then resist. Because they are indirect about their thoughts and feelings, their intentions are unclear.
Stefan Falk, a leadership consultant who studies the psychology of work, says passive-aggressive behavior “destroys value and pollutes the work environment.”
Colleagues who exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies are particularly insidious to organizations because they can come off as productive. In reality, they are not interested in carrying out projects.
They are more concerned with being loved and creating an environment that they find non-threatening. Often this causes them to abandon progressive ideas and focus on their own needs, not the needs of the organization.
Here are seven traits of a passive aggressive person and how to deal with them, according to Falk.
1. They are selfish
A passive-aggressive person constantly seeks approval. When completing tasks, they don’t think so much about the outcome or organization as about how they are perceived.
“They can, over time, be seen as highly competitive and results-oriented,” Falk says. “But closer examination reveals that the purpose of it all is to serve self-interest, not the common good.”
2. They want to have followers
Being a follower or team player doesn’t appeal to a passive-aggressive co-worker, especially if it doesn’t serve their own self-interest.
“Rather than showing that they are followed, they want to get it from others,” says Falk. “The need to create a sub-community is strong in ‘The Passive-Aggressive’.”
Passive aggression is a lazy, low-risk behavior.
3. They play politics
They use “street smarts” to get noticed by those they think can benefit their careers, Falk says.
Passive-aggressive people have “a strong and obsessive drive to play the internal political game the right way,” he says, adding that they often try to forge alliances.
Along the same lines, they often try to derail the agendas of others, whether or not they are beneficial to the organization as a whole.
4. They are preoccupied with things that don’t concern them.
Because they are so focused on what other people are doing and how it affects the power dynamics in the office, they often don’t focus on their own work.
“The passive-aggressive is very preoccupied with things that are out of his reach, because it’s believed that those things can potentially affect him negatively in the future,” Falk says. “They tend to fill his very often long workdays with activities well beyond the scope of his own job duties; activities that have little to do with creating value for the company.”
Even though they seem busy, they often aren’t working on tasks that move a project or initiative forward.
5. They don’t like their job
“The passive-aggressive doesn’t enjoy their job,” Falk says. They might fantasize about quitting or even downsizing the job at the company that currently employs them.
Ironically, their insecurity often prevents them from seeking other opportunities. “The paradox with the passive-aggressive is that when approached by another employer, the answer will most likely be ‘no,'” Falk says.
“The reason for that is that passive-aggressive often operates under the idea, ‘I know what I’ve got, I don’t know what I’m going to get, and chances are it’s going to be worse. “”
6. They look for other enemies
The truism “misery love company” applies especially to passive-aggressive colleagues. They are constantly on the lookout for other employees who share their grievances, but are unwilling to find solutions that can remedy what they perceive as injustice or inefficiency.
“Instead of joining forces with these co-workers to improve the work experience, The Passive-Aggressive recruits these co-workers into its battle against the work community,” he says.
7. They don’t like new ideas.
Because they are insecure, new ideas and knowledge threaten them.
“When confronted with progressive initiatives by others, he or she looks for how those initiatives would harm the base and platform of personal power,” Falk says. “The argument against these initiatives often goes like, ‘We’ve tried it before, and it doesn’t work’ or ‘It looks good, even though it’s not relevant to me.'”
This tends to make them reluctant to help others, Falk says.
How to deal with passive-aggressive colleagues
The best way to deal with a passive-aggressive co-worker is to hold them accountable.
They often derail team projects for their own benefit or tell management that they’ve completed tasks they didn’t. “If they said they were okay with doing something but they didn’t, call them immediately,” Falk says. “If they said one thing to you and another to someone else, call them immediately.
“You have to make it painful for them, not live by their words.”
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