How to deal with a passive-aggressive boss

Passive aggression is a pattern of behavior in which a person’s anger toward another person is hidden. This may take various forms, ranging from subtle insults to harsh jokes to a desire to instigate a fight and blame the other person for it.

Some bosses utilize passive-aggressive conduct as a leadership strategy, but it’s ineffective. At work, your boss’s actions might hurt your relationship with him and the team’s comfort level. We explain how passive aggression expresses itself at work and what you should do if your boss acts in this manner.

Causes of passive-aggressive behavior of the boss

How to deal with a passive-aggressive boss
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There are numerous common explanations for this pattern of behavior:

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1. Upbringing

The family’s behavior model might become the source of communication issues with others. This is most evident in how a person communicates displeasure and acts in conflict situations.

Passive-aggressive people were often taught as youngsters that expressing their feelings as inappropriate. Fear, anger, or disappointment are channeled into irony and mockery as a coping technique. This kind of action allows the passive-aggressive individual to suppress their feelings.

2. Depending on the circumstances

People cannot openly express unpleasant sentiments towards other individuals in various contexts, particularly in business interactions, mainly when he is in command. As a result, emotions are hidden.

3. The habit of ignoring problems

It’s simpler for some people to attempt to forget about difficulties than to begin fixing them. They build up over time and trigger passive-aggressive conduct in reaction to stress. In the case of a crisis, a passive-aggressive individual will find it far simpler to hurl a disguised insult than to figure out what went wrong and why.

How passive aggression manifests itself

How to deal with a passive-aggressive boss
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It is important to remember that we are not at fault when it comes to passive-aggressive. It is intended to make a person feel lousy, regardless of how well he does at work or what personality attributes he has. It’s also a means for our management to communicate any flaws or grievances. Here are some examples of passive aggression that can come from a boss:

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1. Complaints or compliments are hidden under a veil of secrecy

Complaints or displeasure might be disguised as compliments. Unfortunately, it may be much more insulting than the plain truth.

Consider the following scenario: you’ve misplaced an important paper and can’t seem to track it down. The passive-aggressive boss will get away with saying, “Well done.” The employee of the Month has been chosen! Instead of honestly pointing out your mistake and the solution to the problem.

Such behavior may be embarrassing and disrespectful, particularly when done in front of other team members, and the criticism directed towards the boss is quite fair.

2. Neglect

A passive-aggressive boss also has this character. This behavior model enables you to make a joke or a caustic remark in the face of an unpleasant circumstance, so avoid speaking about it. Remarks that the boss doesn’t have time or requests that you repeat what you’ve previously done are examples of demeaning statements. Also, there are times when your boss expects you to know exactly what has to be done, even though you aren’t qualified to accomplish it.

3. Shifting of the blame

Passive- aggressiveness is typical among leaders who lack true leadership traits and are incapable of taking responsibility. To avoid being held accountable, they just pass it on to their subordinates.

A passive-aggressive boss might use this tactic to make his people feel powerless. Such a boss, in particular, ensures that his staff is filled with fear and unease. They were, for example, anticipating the next punishment for mistakes that were not their fault, or they were concerned about the potential of being dismissed.

4. Microaggression

Microaggression is a kind of aggression that aims to manipulate people by stressing their flaws and focusing on their physical characteristics. Gender, religion, education, and habits may all play a role in this.

The boss who chooses this behavior will not skimp on offensive humor or remarks about what you do and why. For example, you drive a car badly because you are a woman or can’t cope with a report because of a liberal education. Microaggression also includes adultism, when discrimination and disrespect are based on your age. The boss may joke about such topics in an attempt to hide his true motives.

5. Digital aggression

Not always passive- aggression is expressed in personal communication. Sometimes, it comes with an email describing how bad an employee you are. At the same time, the boss is unlikely to want to discuss this with you personally, noting that he described everything in a letter, and you need to take note of this.

On the other hand, by expressing digital aggression, the boss is doing himself a disservice. You can forward such statements to your personal mail and use them as one of the arguments for higher authorities if you want to talk about the inappropriate behavior of the leader.

6. Insults made in the open

We feel much more miserable when we are insulted in front of our coworkers. A passive-aggressive boss will use every chance to do that.

He strives to demonstrate his command over workers by his conduct. However, the fear of speaking with an employee in private and being embroiled in a quarrel is often the motivation for public insults.

How to deal with a passive-aggressive boss

How to deal with a passive-aggressive boss
©iStockphotos

The right strategy for dealing with a passive-aggressive boss can help reduce the stress we receive and counter their toxic behavior.

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1. Don’t reply

When we are insulted, we want to react the same way to our boss. We want to show the boss what it’s like to be in our shoes, and we hope that now that he’s seen it, he’ll change his ways. This strategy, however, seldom works. However, such behavior may easily generate a disagreement and guarantee that passive-aggressive directed at you is heard more often. The boss could assume you’re used to speaking in this manner and insist on using it.

Choose calm measures instead of retaliation for passive-aggressiveness. Demonstrate emotional control that your boss does not have. Also, even if it is really tough for you, the behavior you want to see in your surroundings. To calm down, you may use breathing exercises.

2. Without being judgemental, learn to resist

When you disagree with the boss’s words and want to talk about it, do it face to face, away from any other observers. Tactics and delicacy on your side are essential for effective communication.

Of course, there is a great desire to accuse the boss of his incompetence and name the true causes of work problems, but, unfortunately, such communication with a passive aggressor will only provoke him. He perceives personalization and condemnation as an excuse to continue communicating in a toxic format. But delicacy and alienation from the personal aspects of the problem can discourage the boss and make him talk about solving problems and not looking for someone to blame.

3. Set clear expectations for feedback

When it comes to feedback from the boss, you need to take the lead and set clear boundaries.

The first thing to do is to refer to a specific situation where you need an honest assessment, for example, about the weekly sales statistics of the department or the effectiveness of the training. Specify that you would like to receive information personally from him, if possible, without the participation of colleagues in this.

4. Learn not to take everything to heart

When we take the boss’s words to heart, we experience negative emotions – anger, resentment, anxiety. This can develop into physical symptoms such as insomnia, headache, indigestion, and general irritability. Preoccupation with negative emotions can also cloud our judgment, distort the way we see ourselves and others, and cause chronic feelings of depression.

In order not to experience additional stress from a passive-aggressive boss, you need to learn not to accept his words as the truth, especially if you know that they have nothing to do with the truth.

Try each time to mentally resist his negative statements, noting your best qualities. For example, when he blames you for being slow, note that your time management skills allow you to complete everything on time, and he is wrong.

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