by Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach & Consultant
Is there anything worse? Is there any office without one? I doubt
it and I doubt it. So what do you do when youre faced with The
First of all, understand they are playing mind games with you.
If the sign that youre dealing with a paranoid person is that
you get paranoid, the sign that you're dealing with a passive-aggressive
person is that you get angry. Not a quick, clean, clear anger,
as you would with someone who confronted you directly. Its a cloudy
sort of emotion that starts slowly. Often, in fact, youll be curious
about the person. Why? Because part of being "passive" is being
"hidden," and so your curiosity is peaked, but not for long. Soon
you discover how toxic it is to deal with this person.
What sort of jobs do they have? Quite often, frankly, its a job
thats rather low on the totem pole, but one, nevertheless, that
has power. Also they are often entrenched, dug in like a tick.
They have been there "forever," or may have some special ties
to the boss or manager. They have some sort of protected status,
or tenure, which allows them to stay where they are when no one
likes them or wants to work with them.
If it's any consolation, they generally arent promoted, being
unpromotable, but this only adds to the negativity that feeds
An example would be the Supply Clerk in a law firm. They're responsible
for "special" supplies - such as when a trial notebook is needed
- and are often also in charge of assembling it. This puts them
in a very powerful position, as they can stall your work just
at the time its needed most. You can really hit a brick wall if
your boss is unaware or unconcerned, or if they're the one who
keeps the P-A person on staff.
Trying to ingratiate yourself to the P-A person rarely works.
They usually aren't truly friendly people, so they may let you
try, but it doesn't lead to real cooperation, nor will it solve
HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN TRY:
1. Start documentation.
Note that you've asked them to do something and then make the
paper trail. At least in that way, if the project fails, your
supervisor or boss will see where the problem was.
2. Go around them if you possibly can.
Order extra supplies when you don't need them and stockpile them.
Write your own memos. Make the phone call yourself. Its just easier
in the long run, and will save you a lot of frustration.
3. Confront them with particular behavioral issues.
That is, don't go into personalities, which is tempting in this
case, but state what happened and how you felt about it. When
they fail to deliver, state this. "I asked you to XXX and you
said you would, and then you didn't." Then just let it hang. Sometimes
when they've been "uncovered," they'll respond better to you.
4. Go directly to your supervisor and state the problem in behavioral
Deal with facts and give specific examples. Show how the P-A person
is hampering your productivity, and ask your supervisor what you
should do about it.
5. If you have any leverage over the person, use it.
Document, and deal with hard consequences immediately. The sooner
you nip it in the bud, the better. I've seen it work to say, "Some
day you're going to need my help on something. I'd suggest you
cooperate with me so when you need my help, it will be there."
6. When you must give this person an assignment (but are not their
direct supervisor), ask them directly about results. "This must
be completed by noon on Thursday. Will you have it ready then?"
Wait for a "yes" or a "no."
7. Keep your head clear to circumvent the mind games.
Though they don't intentionally mean to be harmful, they intentionally
are doing the behavior that is aggravating. I so often hear clients
say, after a long lament about the circumstances and how they
were "done in," "But they're a good person. I know they didn't
mean to do that." Unfortunately, yes they DID "mean to do that."
The catch is, they may not be mindful of what they're doing; in
fact usually they are not.
It's a self-protective mode, where they're focused on protecting
So direct confrontation doesn't work. They can deny all day long,
and will have plenty of excuses.
8. Don't think you can change them.
If they know they have protection, they have no motivation to
change. This is a deeply ingrained personality trait and you aren't
going to be the one to change what it took years to develop. That
doesn't mean you have to lower your own standards and treat them
poorly; it just means you need to conserve your time and energy.
9. Check things out with your co-workers to get consensual validation.
Several heads and perceptions are better than one, especially
if you decide to present this to a supervisor in a united front.
You may still get the answer that nothing can be done.
10. Get support from your colleagues.
Sometimes you can arrange a way for you to work around this person.
11. Counter their negative talk (usually goes along with it),
by concrete examples to the contrary, and limit your exposure
It can be infuriating to work with a passive-aggressive person,
so take care of yourself, and protect your emotions and attitude.
Limit your contact with the person, and practice methods of self-soothing.
Learn to "let go" and do the best you can.
I have heard many people say, "There's nothing worse than an office
where you can't stand one person."
If this is how you feel, consider transferring or getting another
job. Dont become passive-aggressive yourself. Remain assertive.
You always have options. Sometimes when enough good people quit,
management takes action. The bad news is, you won't be around
there when it happens, but the good news is you won't be around
there when it happens.
(c) Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach and Consultant,
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