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8 Tips for Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Colleagues, Friends and Neighbors

Jerilyn, the East Coast Transplant Says...
You’re in Minnesota.  It’s inevitable.  Eventually you’re going to run into passive-aggressive behavior lurking below the surface and wonder what the heck is going on.  First step is recognizing it (look for signs like procrastination, sullenness, stubbornness or confusion).  The next step is dealing with it.  

Corey, the Minnesota Native Says...
Oh gosh, do I have some advice for you!

Tip 1: Slow down and notice what’s going on under the surface. Do you sense any resentment, jealousies, or frustration seeping around the edges of the person’s voice?  Does their body language give you any clues (e.g. closed or crossed arms)?  Has eye contact stopped?  When did these things begin to occur during your discussion? Think like a detective.  The passive-aggressive person is sending you subtle distress signals and it’s your job to notice them.  Admittedly these signals are all  hard to spot if you’re moving a million miles an hour.  Pause, listen, listen, listen and SLOW DOWN.   Once you are able to recognize what set off the passive-aggressive person you’ll be in a better position to address it (tips #2 and on).  

Tip 2: Choose your reactions wisely.  Take a walk, chill out, and be thoughtful about how you are going to react.  A defensive reaction is probably the worst choice you can make.  Choose empathy.  Keep even keeled.  

Tip 3: Don’t triangulate, don’t go around them, go to them directly.  Again, you don’t want to inadvertently make the situation worse, and going around them will certainly do that.

Tip 4: Rehearse what you’re going to say with a trusted friend or colleague.   Take “why?” out of your vocabulary, at least temporarily.  It’ll only make the person more defensive.  Remember to use empathy and kindness.  Say “we” as much as possible and find areas of agreement or overlap.  

Tip 5: Remember, the passive-aggressive person has pretty much buried their anger - even from themselves - so it’s a good idea not to talk to or about the anger.  Rather, focus on the result you need and make sure the result is behavioral (something you can see and hear and therefore measure).  

Tip 6:  Document, document, document.  If the person is distorting the facts by embellishing details or by changing events slightly you need your facts lined up.  Disengage from the emotional and focus on the facts.

Tip 7: You’ve always secretly wanted to be a model?  Now’s your chance - model respect with a gentle style of assertiveness.    

Tip 8: And finally, reject the problematic behavior, not the person.  Focus on finding solutions, not digging a deeper hole.  Sorry to break it to you, but you’re the one who’s going to have to be the grown-up here.  Oh, so you’re not so interested in being the grown-up?  Check out “How to be Passive-Aggressive for Beginners.”

Get more tips and approaches to help you adapt - even even thrive - to Minnesota Nice on this website.  And, if you’re Minnesotan and recognize some Minnesota Nice in yourself, jump over to the Minnesotan’s Corner.  

Plus, read more about passive-aggressive behavior (and a whole lot more) in the book,
Minnesota Nice? A Transplant's Guide to Surviving & Thriving in Minnesota

© Jerilyn Veldof and Corey Bonnema