Why Are People So Passive-Aggressive?


Have you ever had a friend who casually made
a hurtful comment and joked about not being serious? Or a co-worker who replied to your sincere
apology with, “Fine. Whatever…”? In these kinds of scenarios, people express
resentment or aggression – but in a passive way. So why are people so passive-aggressive? This is a Field Guide to Bad Behaviour. Come along to explore the hostile wilderness
of human nature. But it’s fine if you don’t. Honestly it’s fine. Whatever. Passive-aggressive behavior is a kind of aggression
that’s expressed indirectly. This behavior has likely been around as long
as humans have. But the term itself has a surprising origin:
At the end of World War II, the US. Department of War first used the term to define
a personality disorder, describing soldiers who didn’t comply with the commands of their
superiors. But by 1994, the American Psychological Association
dropped it from their diagnosis manual – there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to consider
it a disorder. Still, its existence in everyday human behavior
is widely reported. The behavior is spotted in the workplace quite
frequently, where a disgruntled employee may show resistance through indirect behaviors
such as procrastination, purposeful inefficiency and being late. You may also find it in relationships. To identify it, look for these signs: It may
appear as sarcasm, silent treatment, subtle insults, and not delivering on promises. You generally find a disconnect between what
a passive-aggressive person says and what they do. And you’re probably wondering why people
display these passive aggressive attitudes. Well, it has do with how we experience and
manage our emotions. According to appraisal theory, we experience
emotions based on our assessment of a situation. We then experience another emotion based on
how we assess our ability to cope with the initial event and the consequences of our
response to it. Sometimes passive-aggressive behavior is unintentional. Say you get angry at a friend for stepping
on your toe, but then you realise they were about to fall. It’s hard to quickly let go of the first
emotion, so you bitterly excuse them. It can also be a coping mechanism for helplessness. Imagine your boss gives you an unfair criticism. You’re frustrated, but you can’t really
retaliate. So you start answering emails late and don’t
show up to work on time. People are also passive-aggressive as a strategy
to avoid confrontation and prevent rejection. In one 2004 study, researchers had 56 couples
keep a diary and answer questionnaires for a few weeks. They found people who were cautious and sensitive
to rejection, were significantly more likely to respond to conflicts by ignoring or dismissing
their partner. But when people sugar-coat hostility instead
of being clear about what they think, it doesn’t really lead to change or a helpful outcome. Here’s how you can navigate this behaviour:
Think of communication as a spectrum: On one extreme, there’s just passive silence. On the other end you voice all sentiments,
no matter how negative. When you need to resolve a conflict, aim to
land somewhere in the middle, to express your thoughts and needs while remaining respectful
of others. To reach that sweet spot of assertiveness,
you have to let go of fear of confrontation. Assertiveness can also help you deal with
others being passive-aggressive. If you see this behaviour, try to tell them
clearly and calmly that their behaviour is hurting you. Focus on communicating your feelings respectfully. Human communication is not always straightforward. Try to constructively express yourself, and
you’ll help others along the way. Until next time… You’re welcome…