dealing a passive aggressive boss

If you’ve ever been held hostage in a conversation with a passive aggressive person then phrases like these should sound familiar:

“Fine.” “Whatever.”
“You just want everything to be perfect.”
“I thought you knew.”
“You’ve done so well for someone with your education level.”
“Why are you getting so upset?”

If that person happens to be your boss, paying close attention to both what’s being said and not being said is critical for your own professional preservation. Don’t worry, help has arrived. The first step is understanding what passive aggressive behavior?

  • Passive aggression is defined as a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008). It involves a range of behaviors designed to get back at another person without him/her recognizing the underlying anger.

Here are 8 common signs your boss is being passive aggressive:

  1. Thy keep complete control over a project
  2. They restrict necessary information for you to do a good job
  3. They provide little to no feedback
  4. They plan for meetings with you and either show up later or not at all
  5. They criticize you in public
  6. They withhold recognition and praise
  7. They pit one employee against another
  8. They micro-manage decisions which you could easily do

According to my research (both online and within organizations), there are some excellent ways to deal with these types of situations:

  • Don’t Take It Personally
    I realize this sounds easier said then done but the reality is that most people who behave this are “usually” aware of it but unclear on how to fix it. If your boss exhibits a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior, remember that it is their problem, not yours. You can’t change him. Remembering this might save your sanity (and your job). Once you realize it is not you triggering these reactions, try to be sure to not take their attacks personally.
  • Set Clear Expectations
    Yes, I am asking you to “manage your boss.” Have a meeting with your boss to be sure you know what they expect of you. Have them state it very clearly and with deadlines. Then be sure it get it in writing.
  • Get It All In Writing
    Any and all conversations that have discussed important details or goals be sure to send an e-mail or write a document that reviews the conversation. Be sure to get a response from your boss, again in writing. You may need this later to clear up any confusion.
  • Stand Up For Yourself
    If you continue to let this behavior go on without defending yourself, you are just as much at fault. I realize this isn’t an easy solve but there are ways to do this. The key here is to be professional, not emotional.
  • Find Another Manager
    This can take on various forms. One strategy is to find another manager / with whom you can work more closely with and who would be willing to support you even if it is just throughout the life of a project. This is when a “dotted line” manager can be a blessing. Or, find a new manager. Do a transfer within the organization.
  • Schedule Regular Meetings
    It may be tempting to tackle your passive-aggressive boss the minute they emerge from their office, but if they are avoiding you, that may make the situation worse. Ask about scheduling regular meetings. A short, weekly meeting to discuss clients or questions adds efficiency to the office.
    Remember to send an email reminder before the meeting to make sure they don’t forget.
  • Communicate Effectively
    When responding to your boss, avoid triggering defensiveness by making “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, Say, “I did meet the deadline” instead of “You said I didn’t meet the deadline, but I did.” Say, “I don’t think that’s funny” instead of “Your joke is offensive.”
  • Go Up the Ladder
    No one wants to “tattle” as we aren’t in kindergarten and employees are often nervous about going over their boss’ head for fear their career will end swiftly. Truth is, there is a time when this is necessary. While talking to the CEO about your boss’ behavior may feel like a risk, allowing your bad boss to control your career may be a bigger risk.


Final thoughts:
This type of behavior is simply not acceptable inside or outside the workplace. A boss who doesn’t readily recognize the impact of their behavior runs the risk of both losing their employee’s respect as well as damaging their reputation. Passive aggressive behavior is toxic, unhealthy and never a responsible form of behavior.

The floor is yours:  How do you deal with passive-aggressive people in the workplace?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

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