If you have ever been in relationship with a passive-aggressive person, you know how maddening it can be. The person smiles to your face, but then is negative and oppositional behind your back. They display a covert aggression, making the relationship uncomfortable and difficult.

You can learn to recognize the tactics being used by a passive-aggressive person. Once you identify those tactics, you can respond differently.

One tactic of the passive-aggressive person is to engage in a feigned forgetfulness. They may say something like, “Oh I don’t remember you telling me that,” or “I would have done what you asked had I known it.” This tactic is a type of playing dumb in order to not do something. Related to this is evading the topic or not giving a straight answer. Instead, the person changes the focus to another topic. This evasion maneuver diverts attention. Nothing gets addressed directly as a result.

Sometimes a passive-aggressive person flat out lies. They take credit for things they didn’t do or pretend they were somehow involved. I worked with someone like this. He would criticize other people but would take credit for everyone’s success behind their back. He made it look like he was saving the day, when in truth, he was taking credit for the work other people had done. In the process, he would pour on the charm, another characteristic of passive-aggressive people. They use charm to get their way, but when you disagree, watch out. They become angry and don’t deal with their anger directly. They use intimidation to put you on the defensive.

Somehow, they become the victim, blaming others for their problems or lack of productivity. This is done by making rationalizations and excuses for why they could not get the job done or perform as requested. And they play on your guilt. You suddenly think, “Wow, how did this move from their issue to me trying to comfort them?” You feel bad and will not bring up the problem. The tactic worked. The problem doesn’t get addressed.

Once you recognize these patterns of behavior, you can begin to address them directly. It won’t be easy, but the goal is to block the behavior, especially if the person doesn’t want to change or see the problem. You will need to set boundaries on their behavior and deal in facts, not emotions.

If passive-aggressive behavior happens at work, document your concerns with the facts. Ask for a yes or no answer to questions. Stay calm and simply say what needs to happen and the consequences if it is not done.

Most importantly, tell the person that when there is a conflict, you expect them to come directly to you to discuss it. Stick to that message and call the person out when that does not happen. Conflict isn’t wrong, but it needs to be addressed directly, not behind someone’s back.

Reacting to the passive-aggressive person

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