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Keeping a Lid on Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Jerilyn, the East Coast Transplant Says…

As someone who grew up in a culture of candidness it can drive me nuts trying to figure out what a Minnesotan *really* thinks or feels about something.  I’m convinced that real Minnesotans must have some secret language that only they are privy to that translates what their fellow Minnesotans actually mean, inspite of what may actually come out of their mouths.   Can you say PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE?!  Ugh.  Minnesotans have that mastered!


Corey, the Minnesota Native Says…

OK, I’ll admit it, there is a disconnect between what we say and what what we do.  Our real feelings are often either completely buried or shared only through actions like folded arms, eye rolling or sighs.  We just aren’t very good at using words to express ourselves.  But we can do better!  Here are some tips to put a lid on our passive-aggressive behavior:


Tip 1:  Be self-aware.  Be attentive to the things you don’t say and look for situations where you make snide or sarcastic comments.  Frequent use of sarcasm is a signal that you’re annoyed about something that you’re not talking about. Understanding the symptoms (e.g. sarcasm) is the first step in recognizing and changing passive-aggressive behavior.  


Tip 2:  Count to five.  When something happens that triggers an emotional response our brains release neurochemicals which make it difficult to think logically.  Counting to five gives you time to intentionally access the logical part of the brain and makes it more likely you can respond appropriately.    


Tip 3: Be honest.  If someone asks how you are feeling, and you have the flu, don’t say “fine.”  If everyone around you can hear or see that you are sick not being honest will cause confusion.  Don’t tell others what you think they want to hear.  Tell them what’s truly going on. 


Tip 4: Be direct.  Don’t beat around the bush.  Say it straight and don’t leave your words or actions up for interpretation.  You should not be the only one who understands what you mean.  Make your message clear and say it directly and relationally.


Tip 5: Take small steps. Changing behavior, particularly those you’ve been using for years, is hard.  Start with small issues and practice on people you know well first to build confidence.  Try being honest  or direct with your spouse or best friend before moving onto the sensitive co-worker who always interrupts you or the outspoken neighbor who borrowed your “mosquito fogger” last summer and hasn’t returned it.    


Tip 6: Remember that conflict is okay.  People who struggle with passive-aggressive behavior are typically afraid of conflict.  To avoid fights or disagreement, they stay silent rather than saying they are upset.  Because they keep things in, they end up getting resentful or blow up.  Ultimately, their anger then gets leaked out rather than worked out. Remember you are not a little kid anymore who can’t stand up for yourself.  Although conflict can be stressful, it is a normal part of life.  Learn to manage conflict, not duck it.

Get even more tips and approaches to help you in the Minnesotan’s Corner of this website.