Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

Passive-aggressive Business Behavior

2013-09-06 12:30:29

Twice in the last two weeks I've had to deal with passive-aggressive behavior in the business world. The first time was from someone I have been working on an independent project with. We both had similar ideas for media projects dedicated to helping out job seekers. She approached me about working together, which we did from about January until June, when we mutually agreed to take time off from actively working on the project until the end of summer. Well, I had a huge opportunity to promote the project fall in my lap, and I emailed her about it to discuss how we should position it. I heard nothing for over a week when I got a text from her saying she had decided to withdraw from the project that she felt we were going in different directions...all this the day before I had a key meeting scheduled. She had been thinking about it for "several months".

First off I won't even dignify the manner of her "communication" with me as a touchstone as anything beyond highly disrespectful. And I am not unduly upset that she changed her mind. What has me boiling is the fact that she didn't give me the common courtesy of *telling* me immediately, either to address the issues and talk about it or else to just withdraw completely. Her excuses, "busy" and "we agreed to take the summer off" don't hold water in this respect. She and I live less than 5 miles apart and there is no excuse. This was conflict avoidance, pure and simple.

Today I had to call out an internal client for failing to hold up the SLA they had agreed to with me when it came to candidate/resume evaluation. The manager called a meeting, and when we got into it, stated "I'm not going to dwell on the past", which is a way of playing ostrich and refusing to own up and be accountable for mistakes that have been made. If this had been a first time for the same issue, it wouldn't even be a blip on my radar, but this has been a repeated pattern for the last couple of years.

I found a good in-depth article that really clarifies and explains passive-aggressive behavior in general. I freely admit that this is a personal trigger of mine but the truth is, it is unacceptable in business. In a nutshell: "Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious)."

Dodging confrontation is huge in our culture; think about when you are out with friends and you meet someone cute and go on a date. One person is really into it, another is not. But the person that isn't interested says "I'll call" but never does and just blows off the other person. That is passive-aggressive. Rather than just saying "you know, I don't think we're a good match" it's become acceptable to just ignore people and hope they "get the message." It's disrespectful and hurts feelings way more than a polite and candid truth. In the business world, it manifests in a variety of ways, from not taking accountability for mistakes (passing the buck), to simply not responding to email that is critical, to not completing work or projects to the best of your abilities because you are unhappy with your job and as a "silent protest" and the hope that your employer will be forced to "do something" about it. It is also important to recognize that if you have any desire to go into a leadership role that it is a major barrier to progressing in your career.

Conflict, disagreements, and critical assessments in the workplace are not easy, but learning to manage them and the process is both good for self-esteem and for instilling respect from colleagues.

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