Keys to Managing Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior is a behavior that causes more problems than others. This is why learning to manage it is fundamental.
Keys to Managing Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Last update: 08 May, 2020

Passive-aggressive behavior is quite problematic, as it’s a major obstacle to maintaining the relationships you have with those who suffer from it.

This is why learning to manage passive-aggressive behavior is fundamental. In this article, you’ll learn how to recognize this behavior. You’ll also discover several keys points that will help you confront it. Thus, when you meet someone who behaves this way, you’ll be able to understand what’s happening and act accordingly.

What’s passive-aggressive behavior?

Everyone knows how to recognize an aggressive person. In general, it’s somebody who frequently uses attacks as a means or instrument. Aggression can be physical but also verbal; it can be direct but also camouflaged. On the other hand, there may be various reasons behind aggression, such as anger, stress, or anxiety.

With this understanding, you could say that a passive-aggressive person is unable to confront something they don’t like directly. However, neither are they able to contain all of their ill-will. Because of this, they tend to combine moments of self-control with moments where they lack control, often throwing off the people around them. If they’re dealing with anger, the person may demonstrate their discomfort through discontinuous and aggressive behaviors.

A couple dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

The problem is that this way of behaving isn’t very effective for resolving problems. Therefore, learning to manage passive-aggressive behavior is fundamental to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

For example, a person with this confrontational style would never say that they’re annoyed. Instead, they’d use indirect behaviors to show their anger, such as not talking to someone who offended them or by making irrelevant or sarcastic comments. Of course, this won’t help anyone if the intention is to resolve the conflict. Generally, however, these people are simply seeking to show their displeasure with a situation.

How to manage passive-aggressive behavior

Below, you’ll discover two tips for confronting this type of behavior when you encounter it for the first time. When you master them, you’ll find that passive-aggressive people will no longer have power over you.

1. Ignore their calls for attention

The most effective way to manage passive-aggressive behavior is to ignore its symptoms and not reinforce them in their absence. Someone who displays this behavior is fundamentally seeking attention. Therefore, if they see that their behavior isn’t affecting you and you’re not paying any attention to it, they might start speaking with you more directly. In psychology, this is known as the extinction of behavior.

Going back to the previous idea, when a passive-aggressive person makes sarcastic comments or gives you “the silent treatment,” they’re seeking to receive reinforcement for their behavior. Nobody would think that a fight or an argument could be considered an outside reinforcement. However, they’re reinforcements if a person has no other tools in their repertoire of behaviors to get attention. Therefore, taking on the role of an educator is important in these cases.

2. Be assertive

The idea of being assertive has become popular lately, but it’s true that it’s very useful for resolving a multitude of problems and unpleasant situations. It may become one of your greatest allies regarding passive-aggressive behavior.

Thus, the first time you find yourself with a person who behaves this way, ask them directly what’s happening. The key to this approach is that you must remain calm in the discussion that will most likely follow. When a passive-aggressive person is questioned in this way, they’ll have to fight back and show what’s bothering them.

A couple trying to resolve a conflict.

With all the cards on the table, it’ll be easier to resolve a conflict that would otherwise remain buried; like a thorn in your side, these people would continue causing you ill-will without you being able to understand the reasons behind their behavior. By provoking their discourse, you’ll acquire valuable information to resolve the conflict, as well as play the educational role we mentioned previously. Through you, the other person will learn that there’s another way to manage their anger, sadness, or stress.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Del Prette, A., Del Prette, Z., & Barreto, M. (1999). Habilidades sociales en la formación profesional del psicólogo: análisis de un programa de intervención. Psicología conductual7(1), 27-47.
  • Gómez, C. C., & Calvo, M. C. (2005). Habilidades sociales en adolescencia: un programa de intervención. Revista profesional española de terapia cognitivo-conductual3, 1-27.
  • Roca, E. (2014). Cómo mejorar tus habilidades sociales. ACDE.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.