Updated: Apr 22
Experts report that there is a conflict every twenty minutes in the workplace. Now by conflict I don't mean a physical altercation. Most conflict is where we grit our teeth, seethe and contribute to the already existing negative narrative we have about someone we feel forced to work with. But work is certainly not the only place we have all experienced unwanted frustration and tension. We certainly experience at home as well. Most of the time we respond to these inevitable frustrations in passive aggressive ways.
Passive aggressive behavior occurs when we don’t engage in expressing our feelings directly. Either we feel this is not the right time or place, or we simply don't have the energy, or we wonder what good it would do us anyway? So we choose passive-aggressive alternatives to dealing with our frustration. We might be sarcastic, caustic, insult someone with a joke and then pretend our insult was no big deal. If the other person reacts we might ask them what’s THEIR problem? "Can't you take a joke?" Or we can dig in, be stubborn, feign ignorance, or forgetfulness when confronted about our lack of follow-through. If we want to step it up a notch, we can even spread rumors or laughingly share vitriolic attacks with other co-workers behind someone’s back.
Most of us become passive aggressive when we feel we are constrained in our expression of our feelings. Even if we are the one doing the constraining in order to avoid outright conflict. Most people hate feeling restricted, dominated or controlled. In short, we can behave in passive aggressive ways any time we feel someone is attempting to control or dominate us, go against us, or is simply not doing what we believe they should be doing.
In short, passive-aggressive behaviors are when the snotty-nose rebellious kid decides to stick their tongue out, or put their fingers in their ears and scream “Blah, blah, blah, blah” in an attempt not to listen. Passive aggressive behaviors are usually behaviors we fail at attempting to mask. These obvious attempts to NOT comply or conform to someone we believe is attempting to dominate us do not lead to successful outcomes and usually only succeed at making communication more strained and tense.
There are three main reasons why passive-aggressive behaviors don't work.
1. Core problems and issues are rarely solved by acting from a passive-aggressive stance. When we are behaving passive-aggressively our intentions are not to solve an issue or problem, our intentions instead are to avoid a conflict we don't feel confident about resolving. So passive-aggressive behaviors actually perpetuate problems, not solve them.
2. Passive aggressive behaviors are usually sneaky and underhanded and therefore undermine the trust that is necessary in creating healthy relationships at home or at work. It is a snake in the grass and most people hate snakes, just as most people intensely dislike passive aggressive behaviors. Passive-aggressive behaviors keep a situation enflamed. They metaphorically pour salt into the original wounds instead of finding a cure that would be most beneficial to solving a problem.
3. The most important of these three reasons is that passive-aggressive actions cause tensions to simmer and continue to build, only to explode later. Passive-aggressive behaviors do not create space to calm down, they stick sharp sticks into the conflictual bear until the bear wants to tear the perpetrator apart. If you constantly find yourself choosing to passive-aggressively react to conflict, and you realize that these choices will never bring you the best desired outcome, you might want to consider healthy communication alternatives. By not simply subverting to habitual passive aggressive reactions you could choose instead the best behavior and solution for each situation.
But what is the answer? It might be a great help to begin to identify how different color personality tendencies show up in passive-aggressive ways. The Primary Colors Relationship Personality Insight Tools. uses six personality colors from the artists color wheel.
Helpful Tips from each of the six personality color tendencies of the Primary Colors Personality Insight Tools:
1 BLUE color personality tendencies can help you identify the real problem. If you are being passive-aggressive, is it a reaction to something with which you are unhappy? It only makes sense that you need to identify what you are upset about before you can work on a solution. People with blue centered personality color tendencies are great at seeing problems and finding solutions to those problems.
2 ORANGE color personality tendencies can help you find the humor in stressful situations. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Humor can help us deal with frustration and conflict in less stressful ways. Do you understand who you become when you are frustrated or angry. Masking your frustration, anger or sadness does not benefit you, your ability to communicate or your relationships. Become more aware of who you become when you are feeling extremes like anger, frustration, and disappointment. Then lighten up. Don't take life too seriously because none of us are getting out alive.
3 GREEN color personality tendencies can help you communicate in direct, but fair and respectful ways. Try to keep your communication open and honest. If someone's actions upset you, address those actions on the spot by telling that person how you feel. You do not have to be rude or angry, but you should be open that although your feelings feel like facts, they are not only not actual facts, but they aren't the 'truth' either. Centered green tendencies help us to be more fair in our interactions and they can help us see the issue from two sides, instead of just our own.
4 RED color personality tendencies allow people to cut to the chase. But check your expectations that others interpret as demands. Are you aware when your expectations become entitled? Many passive-aggressive individuals feel entitled to their friends and family understanding what they want and need, or even why they are frustrated or angry without them having to ever explaining the issue. Although people with red centered personality tendencies can be very direct, red brings with it an honesty that we can respect, even if it is bossy.
5 YELLOW color personality tendencies can help maintain the heart and compassion even in times of stress. Are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Ask for help. It is very useful to have people around you that you believe have your best interest at heart help you become more aware of your changing moods. If they can help you notice when you become passive-aggressive, you have a choice and a chance to change your behavior. People who are behaving and reacting out of their extreme yellow personality tendencies have the strongest tendencies toward choosing passive aggressive behaviors. Mostly because they are afraid of conflict. But passive aggressive tendencies do not save us from conflict, they inflame it.
6 PURPLE color personality tendencies can help us stay level headed and logical. Stop and take the time recalibrate. It is wise and greatly beneficial when you are feeling passive-aggressive to stop and take the time to evaluate the effectiveness of passive-aggressive actions and reactions and recalibrate your behaviors. Since passive aggressive behaviors are never effective, nor efficient, they are literally a waste of time. Remind yourself of your ultimate goal and ask yourself what behaviors, thoughts and attitudes will most directly and effectively accomplish your goals.
Passive-aggressive behaviors and attitudes are always born out of our extreme color personality tendencies, and nothing good, no good outcomes ever come out of communication or interactions while we are in our extremes.
Personality and relationship expert Dawn Billings is an author of hundreds of articles on personality, relationships, parenting and the wrath of entitlement.
Dawn is a serial entrepreneur and the creator of the RelationshipHelp.com programs and the comprehensive ONLINE program called Relationship Help At Home. Dawn is the executive director of the Relationship Help Resort in Arizona, and author and architect of the relationship personality tests series called Primary Colors Personality Tests and Insight Tools.