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How You Can Stop Passive Aggressive Behavior At Work For Good

“Are you a team player?”

It’s a question that is commonly asked during the interview process for almost every job on the planet. Hiring managers want to make sure that you’re not going to create conflict and reduce productivity. The only problem with this is that it has led to a lack of needed conflict on teams. We need to be able to openly air disagreements on ideas so the cream of the crop can rise to the surface. Conflict can actually foster better productivity.

When that conflict is not allowed, the result is team members stuffing their dissatisfaction internally. It begins to fester there, growing into a massive beast of hatred over time. Eventually these negative feelings must come out, which is when your team begins to see passive-aggressive behaviors. When you’ve reached the point of sarcastic comments and sabotage, then you’re in the danger zone of losing everything.

The good news is that it is never too late to solve the problem of passive-aggressiveness. Here’s how you can begin to stop it from rearing its ugly head starting today.

#1. Put a light on the elephant in the room. Acknowledge the feelings of dissatisfaction and hatred that people on the team are having. Take time out of your schedule, go to a neutral site, and then set ground rules about how to discuss dissension without being hurtful. Everyone on the team is valuable – otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place. You want all of their opinions. Make this fact known and be very clear about it.

#2. Make time for dissent in every conversation. Don’t allow dissatisfaction to be stuffed so it can fester. Ask team members in every conversation if there is some level of dissent about what is going on. You can do this by turning it into a devil’s advocate discussion. “How might someone want to criticize this idea?” or “What problems would someone potentially see if we implement this idea today?” This gives people a safe way to express their dissent without necessarily taking ownership of it, reliving the feelings of dissatisfaction.

#3. Give equal time to all opinions. Feedback is critical for a team to be consistently successful. Just because there is a dissenting opinion doesn’t mean that the dissent is incorrect. Explore that feedback and take whatever value you find out of it and use it to everyone’s advantage. You’ll always have people who want to disagree because that’s how they have fun at work, but even these folks have moments of inspiration that can be gleaned from their dissenting feedback. Take this seriously and your production levels will soar.

#4. Identify passive-aggressive behavior and confront it every time you see it. This is where many team members get into trouble. They have no problem calling out passive-aggressive behavior, but they’re not willing to offer solutions to fix the issue. When you confront this behavior, practice alternatives that are healthier for the team. Then give people a chance to express their dissent.

#5. Stop the back-channel sarcasm. This is where most efforts to reduce passive-aggressiveness tend to fail. Team members may gather for drinks after work, talk during a lunch break, or IM each other on Facebook over the weekend to feed their passive aggression. If you hear complaints outside of a team meeting, ask people to bring up their concerns there. Ask for new information. A team doesn’t have to 100% agree on everything, but they do need to be on the same page.

Passive-aggressiveness can be very costly. Not only does it cause a team to reduce their overall production, but it also creates high amounts of anxiety and stress for everyone involved. Be open, be honest, and most of all be direct about dissent and conflict when you see it and you’ll begin to reduce the passive-aggressive tendencies of your team over time.

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