passive aggressive behavior at work

Strategies for Managing Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace


This week, INC Magazine online published a nice feature article about passive aggressive behavior at work, featuring several strategies from my first book (co-written with Drs. Nicholas & Jody Long) The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces,  Check it out here:


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The Angry Smile Online Training Teaches People How to Manage Passive Aggressive Behavior


The Angry Smile ONLINE course is NOW AVAILABLE via the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute’s website!  See below for a very special offer…


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Is there a person in your life who procrastinates, carries out tasks in intentionally inefficient ways, is quietly manipulative, creates minor but chronic irritation in others, and makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? If so, you may be working or living with a PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE person.



REGISTER TODAY FOR THE ANGRY SMILE ONLINE TRAINING to discover how to stop frustrating arguments, endless conflict cycles, and relationship-damaging wars of words.



10% DISCOUNT: All participants who register for The Angry Smile Online course during the month of August 2013 will receive a 10% discount on the course fee! Simply enter the code FACEBOOK at checkout and the discount will be applied upon checkout. 




Training on How to Manage Passive Aggressive Behavior


This November 18th, the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (NH CEBIS) will host a one-day training on The Angry Smile (see Workshops & Speaking Page for full details).

Do you live or work with someone who:

  • Denies or represses feelings of anger
  •  Withdraws and sulks
  • Sends hidden, coded and confusing messages when frustrated
  • Procrastinates or carries out tasks inefficiently
  • Is quietly manipulative and controlling
  • Makes endless promises to change
  • Creates a feeling in others of being on an emotional roller coater

This workshop takes an in-depth look at the roots of passive aggression, exploring the behavior at five distinct and (more…)

Win a FREE Copy of The Angry Smile!


Hello all–

I’ve got a busy Fall planned, with several training workshops featuring The Angry Smile.  Although I’ve got a good number of stories about sugarcoated hostility, excessive civility, defiant compliance, and plain old passive aggressive behavior to share, I am always looking for fresh, new examples.  If you have a good example of passive aggressive behavior from a friend, family member, co-worker, parent, child, mother-in-law (those are the best!), boss, on Facebook, via e-mail, on a post-it note, or all of the above, I would love to hear it!

Please e-mail me your story to or better yet, leave it here via the Comments section.  Be sure to leave me your e-mail address; I will be sending a free copy of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed. to the best example I receive.

Spread the word.  It’ll be great for my collection of real-life examples of passive aggressive behavior and probably worth several laughs for you as well, as you hear about the hilarious lengths some people go to avoid expressing their anger directly and assertively.




PLEASE NOTE: By submitting this story to, you grant Signe Whitson a permanent, royalty-free license to use and/or reproduce this story for any purpose.

Passive Aggressive E-Mail at Work


Hilarious YouTube clip on passive aggressive e-mail exchanges between co-workers.  I use this in all of my Angry Smile workshops.  It’s funny because IT’S SO TRUE!

>Passive Aggression in the Workplace: Sabotage in Philly Pizza Shops


>Check out this news clip & video footage about passive aggressive workplace sabotage in several Philadelphia area pizza shops…GROSS!

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>Loose Change: Passive-Aggressive Co-workers



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>10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases to Avoid


>This article was recently published on
Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? Are you sometimes that person? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person or showing signs of passive-aggressive behavior yourself.

Passive aggression is 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 recognizing the underlying anger. These ten common passive aggressive phrases can serve as an early-warning system for you, helping you recognize hidden hostility when it is being directed your way:

1. “I’m Not Mad.”

Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior. Rather than being upfront and honest when questioned about his feelings, the passive aggressive person insists, “I’m not mad” even when he is seething on the inside.

2. “Fine.” “Whatever.”

Sulking and withdrawing from arguments are primary strategies of the passive aggressive person. Since passive aggression is motivated by a person’s belief that expressing anger directly will only make his life worse (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008), the passive aggressive person uses phrases like “Fine” and “Whatever” to express anger indirectly and to shut down direct, emotionally honest communication.

3. “I’m Coming!”

 Passive aggressive persons are known for verbally complying with a request, but behaviorally delaying its completion. If whenever you ask your child to clean his room, he cheerfully says, “Okay, I’m coming,” but then fails to show up to complete the chore, chances are he is practicing the fine passive aggressive art of temporary compliance.

4. “I Didn’t Know You Meant Now.”

On a related note, passive aggressive persons are master procrastinators. While all of us like to put off unpleasant tasks from time to time, people with passive aggressive personalities rely on procrastination as a way of frustrating others and/or getting out of certain chores without having to directly refuse them.

5. “You Just Want Everything to be Perfect.”

When procrastination is not an option, a more sophisticated passive aggressive strategy is to carry out tasks in a timely, but unacceptable manner. For example:

  • A student hands in sloppy homework
  • A husband prepares a well-done steak for his wife, though he knows she prefers to eat steak rare
  • An employee dramatically overspends his budget on an important project

In all of these instances, the passive aggressive person complies with a particular request, but carries it out in an intentionally inefficient way. When confronted, he defends his work, counter-accusing others of having rigid or perfectionist standards.

6. “I Thought You Knew.”

Sometimes, the perfect passive aggressive crime has to do with omission. Passive aggressive persons may express their anger covertly by choosing not to share information when it could prevent a problem. By claiming ignorance, the person defends his inaction, while taking pleasure in his foe’s trouble and anguish.

 7. “Sure, I’d be Happy To.”

 Have you ever been in a customer service situation where a seemingly concerned clerk or super-polite phone operator assures you that your problem will be solved. On the surface, the representative is cooperative, but beware of his angry smile; behind the scenes, he is filing your request in the trash and stamping your paperwork with “DENY.”

 8. “You’ve Done so Well for Someone with Your Education Level.”

The backhanded compliment is the ultimate socially acceptable means by which the passive aggressive person insults you to your core. If anyone has ever told you, “Don’t worry—you can still get braces even at your age” or “There are a lot of men out there who like plump women,” chances are you know how much “joy” a passive aggressive compliment can bring.

 9. “I Was Only Joking”

Like backhanded compliments, sarcasm is a common tool of a passive aggressive person who expresses his hostility aloud, but in socially acceptable, indirect ways. If you show that you are offended by biting, passive aggressive sarcasm, the hostile joke teller plays up his role as victim, asking, “Can’t you take a joke?”

 10. “Why Are You Getting So Upset?”

The passive aggressive person is a master at maintaining his calm and feigning shock when others, worn down by his indirect hostility, blow up in anger. In fact, he takes pleasure out of setting others up to lose their cool and then questioning their “overreactions.”

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed. Her blog, Passive Aggressive Diaries, was designed to take a light-hearted look at the hilariously conniving ways in which people encounter and exude passive aggressive behavior in their everyday lives.  She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute.   Her work is brought to you by a baby clothes boutique in an effort give back to the parenting community.  Pay it forward – check out their adorable selection of baby accessories and shower gifts.

>What Not to Say At Work


>In many workplace settings, where adults spend the majority of their waking hours and corporate hierarchies inhibit the direct expression of feelings, a passive aggressive employee is able to sabotage everything from individual deadlines to organizational productivity.  It is critical for employers to be able to recognize passive aggressive behaviors in the workplace before these covertly hostile acts can create a negative impact on morale and decrease organizational productivity. 

Is there a sabatueur in your office?  Keeps your ears tuned for these common, telltale office phrases:

I’ll Get it to You Tomorrow

The passive aggressive employee often feels underappreciated and expresses his underlying anger through temporary compliance.  Though he verbally agrees to a task, he behaviorally delays its completion, by procrastinating, “forgetting” important deadlines, “misplacing” files, mis-using sick days, and arriving late.

No One Told Me

For the passive aggressive co-worker, it is more important to express his covert hostility than to maintain an appearance of professional competence.  He uses intentional inefficiency to complete work in a purposefully unacceptable way.  Look out for employees whose work is consistently at or below minimum standards, who insists “no one ever told me,” and who personalizes any confrontations from authority, playing up their role as victim.

You Weren’t Here, so I Just Asked Your Boss
Sabotage is the name of the game for the passive aggressive employee.  Beware of those who consistently engage in office gossip, incessantly complain about their boss, thwart workplace hierarchies, and withhold important information.

I Just Left a Message Because You Had Left for the Day
Direct, assertive communication is a skill that the passive aggressive employee has never mastered.  Sound the passive aggressive alarms whenever you notice an employee who goes to great lengths to avoid face-to-face confrontation, fails to respond to e-mails, leaves sticky notes on office doors just when they know a co-worker has stepped out, and returns phone calls only after the workday is over.

For more information on passive aggressive behavior in the workplace and how to effectively confront this destructive office dynamic, check out The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.

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>Real Housewives of NJ…AGAIN


>Where should I send the Thank-you note? To the Bravo network? To a Real Housewife?

Last night’s episode of The Real Housewives of NJ delivered yet again, when it comes to this collection of hilariously conniving examples of passive aggressive behavior. Though the hostility is barely hidden and rarely sugarcoated amongst these Housewives, the behind-the-scenes chatter and this e-mail exchange, in particular, are great examples of passive aggression on the set.

My favorite line in this clip comes at the very end: Danielle’s classic, passive aggressive 2-word/phrase answer to Dina’s long e-mail. Let me know what you think in the “Comments” section.

The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces

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