How do you handle conflict with a passive aggressive/conflict fearing individual?


2 Answers

Yo Kass Profile
Yo Kass , Would-be anthropologist, answered

That's a tricky question - but I'll give it my best shot!

I personally think that people who display passive aggressive traits aren't always afraid of conflict, they're just trying to create conflict on their terms.

Rather than approach you directly about an issue they're unhappy about, they'll try to indirectly provoke you into losing your rag first.

My advice for dealing with this situations would be to:

1) Make things as clear and straight-forward as possible. It may sound tedious, but I'd recommend documenting conversations and laying out what you expect in a way that's polite but unmistakable.

Passive agressive people tend to manipulate situations, twist words, and use tools like sarcasm and ambiguity. They lead people on.

The best way to avoid all that is to keep your interactions formal and to the point.

2) Empathise - It may sound like the hardest thing to do, but when confronted with passive aggressive behaviour, the best thing you can do is seem calm and sympathetic.

I used to deal with a lot of angry customers in a previous job, and encountered plenty of passive aggression.

Customers would actively try to provoke me into getting angry, so they could complain about me, write to head office, and receive freebies!

I found the best way to do deal with these situations was to keep calm and remain neutral about the situation. I tried to sound genuinely concerned about their complaints (even when they had no basis), and made it appear like I was doing everything in my power to rectify the situation.

3. Don't take it personally. Most of the time, passive aggressive behaviour isn't your fault, it's something that the person in question needs to deal with themselves.

When you get caught in their trajectory, try to remember that it's not a personal attack, it's just the way they've developed to behave.

That doesn't mean you have to put up with it, but deal with it pragmatically rather than emotionally.

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Lily Bradic
Lily Bradic commented
Brilliant answer, Kass - I'd definitely agree with points 2 and 3. I think that a lot of the time, passive-agressive people aren't even aware that they're being passive-aggressive, and are convinced that they're in the right, and you're wrong. You just have to rise above it, sometimes.
Melinda Moore
Melinda Moore commented
Really helpful answer, and I couldn't agree more with your suggestion to document conversations etc, which can really helps to ensure that everyone involved in a "discussion" considers how they're behaving, and how that behaviour, and what is said, might be perceived by others not present at the time.

The thing I personally find most difficult to deal with, when dealing with passive-aggressives, is the fact that - when you try to take a more direct and honest approach in response to their behaviour - they manage to make you appear to be the person initiating the conflict, even if their tone and body language was clearly hostile at the beginning.

They are also often in denial and completely unable to accept that they are even feeling hostility or anger - which makes the situation even harder to deal with, and more surreal!
Crystal B.  Astrology Profile

I was just thinking about this very behaviour this morning - so the timing is just perfect in reading this question!  Naturally, because I'm an astrologer, I think about what the person's astrological make up is.  When I spot a passive aggressive person - I blame Mars.  Mars is our action planet and the one that allows you to stand up for yourself.  I wrote an article for Sasstrology about "manning up to him" last year:

I was just cursing Mars and his behavior actually - why can't people just man up and tell us what the heck is wrong!  Anyway, my advice is to keep it positive when making the approach - or confronting them!  I definately agree with Kass that it's a tricky situation but the more upbeat you can be with this personality type the better off you'll end up ;-)  I will admit it's challenging and I'm caught up with dealing with a person like this right now so I'm going to practice what I preach and cross my fingers it comes across the right way!

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Lily Bradic
Lily Bradic commented
Good answer - I tend to do the same with passive-agressive people, and just be as polite and amicable as possible, as if I haven't noticed their passive aggression. Sometimes, it's hard to do this, especially when they get frustrated that their passive-aggressive behaviour isn't working how they'd like! When this happens, it's best to confront them in a calm manner (unless you're dealing with the public. If you're working in hospitality or retail, it's best just to rise above it and be as polite as possible).

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