passive aggressive

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.

5 Strategies for Parents Coping with a Daughter’s Passive Aggressive Behavior


Please check out my article, featured on  The post offers insight into the intentionally maddening world of passive aggressive behavior and tips for how parents can cope with–and effectively change–this pattern of behavior.



3 Ways that Kids’ Anger Bites Back


How many of you were told as a child, “Don’t be mad at your friend. She was just kidding,” or even “It’s not nice to be angry with your parents?” How many of you–gulp–have even uttered messages like these to your own children? Don’t worry; my hand is raised also. Despite the fact that I just wrote a book about helping kids accept and manage angry feelings, sometimes these knee-jerk responses just fly out of my mouth–as they do everyone else’s.

Are they the worst things to say to a child? Well, having worked for several years with abused children, I can definitively say (more…)

Passive Aggressive Behavior in Schools: One Teacher’s Learning Experience


I just received this great bit of feedback from a teacher in Alaska who recently completed the one-day training on The Angry Smile.  The feedback I’d like to return to her: don’t beat yourself up about the “could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve.”  We all make mistakes with the kids we are trying to help and we all wish we could do even more for them.  It’s an incredibly difficult profession!

Learning new strategies and applying them is something to feel proud of and excited about.  So, no more “Shame on me’s!”  Feel good about all of your hard work–it’s tiring and often thankless, but the rewards in lives-changed and hearts-touched are endless.

Participant’s Feedback:


For years I’ve referred to many of the behaviors on the

“Recognizing the Warning Signs” page as self-destructive. I suppose they are, but I had never viewed

them from the viewpoint of how they might be symptoms of passive-aggressive

patterns. Often knowing why a student is

acting a particular way is the one piece of information we lack, yet it’s the

most crucial one. Now I understand that

Elijah turned in poor quality work with appalling penmanship as a strategy to

deal with his anger. I can even begin to

formulate a theory as to what his anger might be about, but alas this student

has moved on from my class. I think I

will forever remember him as the student I was able to help too late. For future students, however, the Angry Smile

class has provided me with a great introduction to what I would like to learn

about passive-aggressive behavior.

I wish I could go back and say to this student, “I’m

thinking you must find this work to be a waste of your time. I think we should forget about this

assignment and work together to find some tasks that you will feel good about

doing.” Or, “I see that you might have

completed your work, but once again I am not able to clearly read your

handwriting. I really wish I could

accurately read your story, because I know you have a vivid imagination. I sometimes feel like I might be missing the

most important parts.” Did I ever tell

him in a positive way that his handwriting stunk? Never, not once in three years. Shame on me!

This is another class that I would love to explore in

greater depth. I can see myself in the fall better equipped to recognize those warning signs

and patterns, and I think that is a good first step.

4 Strategies for Confronting Passive Aggressive Behavior in Your Relationship


One of my favorite stories about passive aggressive behavior in a marriage goes like this:

“Cash, check or charge?” I asked, after folding the items the woman wished to purchase. As she fumbled for her wallet, I noticed a remote control for a television set in her purse. “So, do you always carry your TV remote?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “but my husband refused to go shopping with me and I figured this was the most evil thing I could do to him legally.”

In relationships, passive aggressive behaviors are often used to avoid the direct confrontation of short-term conflict, but in the long-term, these dynamics can be even more destructive to marriage than outright aggression. To keep assertive communication


Seinfeld Would Just Die: The Passive Aggressive Couple


>3 Steps for Improving Communication with a Passive Aggressive Spouse


>Check out this article about how to effectively confront passive aggressive behavior in your relationship, posted on Mom It Forward

Behavior: Improving Communication With Your Spouse

>Baby on Board: Paving the Way for your Family’s Newborn Days


>Some of the most magical moments for any family involve the arrival of a newborn sibling. There is joy in the new birth and excitement over the possibilities of this young life. The former “babies” of the household elevate their status overnight to become “big” brothers or sisters. The luckiest ones may even score a larger bed or bigger bedroom in the process. Yes, there are many wonderful changes that come when a new baby enters a family, but sometimes the adjustment period holds some rough edges for the littlest of family members.

The following tips are offered to help your older child(ren) transition well to your expanding family:

Set clear expectations

When my second daughter was on the way, my older daughter was thrilled at the prospect of having a live-in playmate. Her hopes were dashed by Day 2, however, when she realized that this new “live-in” did a whole lot of sleeping, dominated Mommy’s time with round-the-clock feeding, and—least tolerable of all—cried a heck of a lot.

Prepare your older child for the ups, downs, and realities of life with a newborn. Tell stories about his own days as a newborn, visit with other families that have infants, preview what your home’s daily routine will be like, and read books about life with a new sibling. One of my daughter’s favorite books during our newborn transition was Mercer Mayer’s The New Baby. It made her laugh and seemed to normalize some of the tougher newborn moments.

Give a Promotion

Allow your older child(ren) to take on the role of “Special Helper” in the family. Even toddlers can provide a much-needed set of extra arms for fetching diapers, handing over out-of-reach bottles, grabbing spit-up cloths in a jiffy, and selecting bath toys. Older kids can get involved in making bottles, changing diapers (who doesn’t want help with that?) and reading to the baby.

There are countless ways to involve siblings in caring for a newborn baby. Be sure to express your appreciation for all that they do. Also, reassure them that the place that they hold in your heart is as special as ever—and that your love for them will never change.

Gifts Never Fail

Newborns are often showered with gifts—adorable baby hats, booties, onesies, and cozy blankets seem to arrive by the armful with every new visitor. While parents appreciate these precious items, the newborn has no meaningful awareness of the cascade of presents. But older children sure do. While there are lessons to be learned for older children about their sibling being deserving of gifts and that they are not always the center of attention, the best-learned lessons are also those that are well-timed. In the overwhelming moments of the newborn transition, it’s difficult for siblings to take in the imbalance of gifts—the feeling that they are missing out on Christmas. When well-meaning guests arrive with gifts for baby only, parents can have on hand a cute hat, stuffed toy, board book, or simple dollar-store item that your older child can unwrap and enjoy.

One of my favorite moments of our family’s newborn transition was during the thrill of our first Christmas as a larger family, when my older child asked if she could pick out presents for the baby. Initially, I was suspicious that we were going to go on a thinly-veiled shopping spree for her own holiday list, but as it turned out, her shopping list was shockingly thoughtful and right on the money for what her three-month old sister would enjoy. ‘Tis true what they say; it is better to give than to receive, even for young ones!

When a new baby enters the family, everyone’s life changes! A little advance planning, helper-cultivating, and gift-stashing can go a long way toward making this one of the happiest periods in your young family’s life.

Now that we’ve covered ways to help older siblings adjust to their expanding families…let’s take a turn to the Passive Aggressive side of things.  What stories do you have of children “welcoming” newborn siblings, in sugarcoated but hostile ways?

>Good Fences Make Good Neighbors


>”Good fences make good neighbors.” So says Robert Frost in his famous poem, The Mending Wall. Wonder if that’s true. Wonder if my neighbor is building a fence. Or a wall. It’s truly hard to tell what the man is thinking. After 9 years of living back to back, we really can’t figure him out. All we know is that when we’re both in the yards or passing by in cars, he studiously puts his head down to avert eye contact, and it has been that way ever since we moved in.

Well, to be accurate, we have spoken a few times. When we first moved to the neighborhood, he did knock on our door to say “This is my property line.” He was very meticulous in pointing out which of the leaves we just inherited from the former owners tended to fall on his L-shaped yard and how, exactly, we needed to keep any of our plants out of his mulch.

“O-K,” we thought. Hope there are some friendly neighbors around here…

Turns out, there have been very friendly neighbors, including ones who informed us that the grumpy, unwelcoming neighbor had an ongoing feud with the previous owner’s teenage son. Over rocks. Yep. Apparently, the neighbor accused the teenager of taking rocks from his garden. (In this part of Pennslyvania, if you dig 1 inch into the ground, you hit rocks, so there need be no fighting over the plentiful supply!)

It seems our neighbor is quite able to hold a grudge, as he’s taken that anger over the rocks out on us time and time again. Since the property-line tours in the first 3 months, he’s never spoken to us directly, but has let us know in all kinds of passive aggressive ways that he is harboring hostility. Let me recount just a few for you:

1. He “accidentally” cut our dog’s electric fence wire (3 times!).

2. Last Fall, he posted an opposing political sign within inches of ours (ours was really just on display to support a fellow neighbor who was running for office)

3. We have a walnut tree on our property (planted long before we lived here!)whose few wayward branches occasionally drop a few nuts on his side of the lawn. He likes to throw them into our yard. “Throw” would be kind. Perhaps “hurl” would be more accurate. Mind you, I have young children.

The latest is his extreme trimming of the hedges that separate our properties and piling up of huge piles of debris, right at the dividing line. Because of the L-shape of his property, it looks like we are the massive twig/brush/rotton leaf accumulators. I want to put a sign up that indicates to our neighbors that the dump pile belongs to him. But that would be passive aggressive. The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces

My husband is hopeful that the new activity around our property line indicates that Hostile Harry is planning to build a wall. I’m hoping for a fence. Afterall, good fences are supposed to make good neighbors.

>Passive Aggressive Words in the Workplace


>Those little teaser headlines on Yahoo rarely grab my attention anymore, but yesterday, something about the headline “Worst Words to Stay at Work” made me want to click. Each of the phrases that author Linnda Durre describes as “toxic” are really examples of passive aggressive phrases used in the workplace. Meanwhile, Durre gives some great instructions on how to effectively confront the PA behavior, that is very much aligned with the steps of “Benign Confrontation” that we outline in The Angry Smile. Nice to see we’re on the same page here.

Let me know what you think. Have you heard these words and phrases in your office? Have you uttered them yourself??

The Worst Words to Say at Work
Linnda Durre,, Yahoo! HotJobs

Some words and phrases are often used to buy time, avoid giving answers, and escape commitment. If you use these words and phrases yourself, take a scalpel and cut them out of your thinking, speaking, and writing.

“Try” is a weasel word. “Well, I’ll try,” some people say. It’s a cop-out. They’re just giving you lip service, when they probably have no real intention of doing what you ask. Remember what Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars”: “Do or do not–there is no try.” Take Yoda’s advice. Give it your all when you do something. And if it doesn’t work, start over.

Put passion into your work, and give it your best effort, so you can know that you did all you could to make it happen. So if the outcome you were expecting didn’t come to fruition, it’s not because you didn’t do everything you could to make it happen. It just wasn’t the right time for it or it wasn’t meant to be.

This word is a trusted favorite of people who want to dismiss you, diminish what you say, or get rid of you quickly. “Whatever,” they will say as an all-purpose response to your earnest request. It’s an insult and a verbal slap in the face. It’s a way to respond to a person without actually responding. When you say “whatever” after another person has said his or her piece, you have essentially put up a wall between the two of you and halted any progress in communicating. It’s a word to avoid.

“Maybe” and “I don’t know”
People will sometimes avoid making a decision–and hide behind words and phrases like “maybe” and “I don’t know.” There’s a difference between legitimately not knowing something and using words like these as excuses. Sometimes during a confrontation, people will claim not to know something or offer the noncommittal response “maybe,” just to avoid being put on the spot. If that seems to be the case, ask, “When do you think you will know?” or “How can you find out?” Don’t let the person off the hook so easily.

“I’ll get back to you”
When people need to buy time or avoid revealing a project’s status, they will say, “I’ll get back to you,” and they usually never do. If people say they will get back to you, always clarify. Ask them when they will get back to you, and make sure they specify the day and time. If they don’t, then pin them down to a day and time and hold them to it. If they won’t give you a day or time, tell them you’ll call in a day or week and follow up. Make sure you call and get the information you need.

Projects depend on everyone doing his or her part. People who use “if” are usually playing the blame game and betting against themselves. They like to set conditions, rather than assuming a successful outcome. People who rely on conditional responses are fortifying themselves against potential failure. They will say, “If Bob finishes his part, then I can do my part.” They’re laying the groundwork for a “no fault” excuse and for not finishing their work.

There are always alternatives, other routes, and ways to get the job done. Excuse makers usually have the energy of a slug and the spine of a jellyfish. You don’t want them on your team when you’re trying to climb Mt. Everest.

“Yes, but . . .”
This is another excuse. You might give your team members suggestions or solutions, and they come back to you with “Yes, but . . .” as a response. They don’t really want answers, help, or solutions. You need to call the “Yes, but . . .” people out on their avoidance tactic by saying something like “You know, Jackie, every time I offer you a suggestion you say, ‘Yes, but . . . ,’ which makes me think you don’t really want to solve this problem. That’s not going to work. If you want to play the victim, go right ahead, but I’m not going to allow you to keep this up.” After a response like that, you can be assured that the next words you hear will not be “Yes, but . . .”!

“I guess . . .”
This is usually said in a weak, soft-spoken, shoulder-shrugging manner. It’s another attempt to shirk responsibility–a phrase that is muttered only when people half agree with you but want to leave enough leeway to say, “Well, I didn’t really know. . . . I was only guessing.” If you use this phrase, cut it out of your vocabulary.

“We’ll see . . .”
How many times did we hear our parents say this? We knew they were buying time, avoiding a fight or confrontation, or really saying no. It’s better to be decisive and honest by saying, “I need more information. Please present your case or send me the data–both pro and con–so I can make an informed decision.” That way, the interested parties will contribute to an in-depth, well-researched “verdict.”

This column is an excerpt of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace” (McGraw-Hill, 2010), by Linnda Durre, a psychotherapist, business consultant, and columnist. You can follow her on Twitter: @LinndaDurreShow.

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