>Check out this news clip & video footage about passive aggressive workplace sabotage in several Philadelphia area pizza shops…GROSS!
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>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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>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, Forbes.com, 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.
>In addition to Passive Aggressive Diaries, I have been Blogging for Psychology Today.com. Here’s an item I recently posted there on passive aggressive behavior in the workplace:
His workplace resume reads something like this:
• Avoiding responsibility for tasks
• Doing less when asked for more
• Missing deadlines
• Withholding information
• Leaving notes and using e-mail to avoid face-to-face communication
• Arriving late to work; extending lunch break
• Using sick days during major team projects
• Resisting suggestions for change or improvement
• “Forgetting” and “misplacing” important documents
• Embarrassing co-workers during meetings and presentations
• Justifying behavior with plausible explanations
• Consistently behaving this way across most workplace situations
Does someone in your office boast these passive aggressive credentials?
Passive aggression is a deliberate and masked way of expressing hidden anger. In many workplace settings, where adults spend the majority of their waking hours and corporate hierarchies inhibit direct expression of feelings, the passive aggressive employee is able to sabotage everything from individual deadlines to department morale to organizational productivity. It is critical that employers be able to recognize passive aggressive behaviors in the workplace before they negatively impact output and efficiency. Do any of your workers exhibit these common tactics of passive aggressive workers?
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” documents, or arriving late. For the passive aggressive worker who feels under-acknowledged by colleagues and management, acts of temporary compliance are most satisfying.
The passive aggressive worker feels it is more important to express his covert hostility than to maintain his appearance of professional competence. He uses intentional inefficiency to complete work in a purposefully unacceptable way:
Tom felt snubbed when passed over for a promotion. He decided to go about his job in a new way; the quantity of his output did not change, but his work became marred with missed details, important omissions, and critical errors. Though Tom never missed a deadline and took on every requested assignment, the quality of his final product had a way of creating embarrassing moments for unsuspecting supervisors caught presenting misinformation.
To protect your office from the passive aggressive saboteur, look out for employees whose work is consistently at or below minimum standards, who insists “no one told me,” and who personalizes any confrontations from authority, playing up their role as victim.
Letting a Problem Escalate
Teamwork and communication are key to productivity in the workplace. When a passive aggressive employee withholds important information or deliberately fails to stop a momentary glitch from turning into an irreversible gaffe, entire operations can be halted or even shut down. The (mis)use of sick days is an area of particular vulnerability in the workplace:
Brenda called in sick the day before a major deadline, knowing that her presence was critical to her department’s success. She took great pleasure in single-handedly foiling the quarterly report and in the resulting company-wide affirmation that without her, the department could not succeed.
Sabotage is the name of the game for the passive aggressive employee who justifies her characteristic crimes of omission by saying, “I didn’t do anything.”
Hidden but Conscious Revenge
In contrast to the inaction that marks the previous tactic, some workers use covert actions to get back at superiors against whom they hold a grudge. The passive aggressive employee is keenly aware that the person with whom he is angry has enough power and authority to make his professional life miserable, so he decides it is not safe to confront him directly. Whether it be through spreading gossip that maligns the boss’s reputation or planting a computer virus that shuts down office IT systems for a week, the passive aggressive employee feels justified in taking secret revenge in the workplace.
By the nature of their covert acts, passive aggressive employees are skilled at evading the long arm of the workplace law. Unchecked, a compliant rule-breaker can have a major impact on an organization’s productivity and morale. When employers understand the warning signs and quickly recognize passive aggressive patterns, they can protect their workplaces from being the unwitting victim of this ideal office crime.
>Check out this great video from YouTube…
Have any examples of your own PA e-mail exchanges?? Share them here!
>In The Angry Smile, we dedicate an entire chapter to describing why workplaces can be especially ripe for passive aggressive behavior–by employees and bosses alike. Here are a few of the funny stories we’ve collected since the book was published. Please add your own in the Comments section!
Posted by Mike on 1/21/09
I have a co-worker who relies on e-mails and phone calls anytime he wants to communicate–even though we all work together in the same office building, on the same floor! Most of the time, it would be quicker for him to just get up out of his seat and tell me something face-to-face than it is for him to dial my extension or type it out, but he always avoids personal contact. It is really annoying, so I make it a point to never answer phone calls when I see they are from him and to ignore anything he sends in an e-mail!
Posted by Kelli on 1/19/09
Jeff was the kind of co-worker who liked everything to be “just so.” Whether it was his own appearance (never so much as a hair out of place) or the office supply room (small paper clips here, medium clips there), his need for order bordered on obsession.
One day, when I walked away from our office’s public workspace for one minute to get a file from my office, Jeff “cleaned up” several stacks of documents that I had been very carefully sorting. 45 minutes of my time was wasted when I had to re-sort and verify the correct ordering of the piles, and I was pissed! When I confronted Jeff about his interference with my work, he gave a lame apology, saying he was just trying to keep the office clean.
Since he was a Senior Account Executive and I was new to the office, I didn’t feel like I could defend my “mess,” but I did make it a point for the next month or two to keep Jeff busy cleaning. When re-filling supplies, I would put small, medium, and large paper clips all in a single container, and watch him take an hour out of his work day to re-sort them one by one. When he wasn’t in his cubicle, I would move his carefully placed pen from the left side of desk calendar to the right side and get a kick out of his puzzled expression when he found his order disturbed. It probably wasn’t very nice of me to interfere with his need for order, but it did help me get over my grudge at having my piles disturbed!
Posted by Yama Nusraty on 9/16/09
In my work experience, I have to deal with what has to be the most worthless courtesy clerks ever to be employed by Safeway. Courtesy clerk is the name given to the entry level position which limits the responsibilities of the employee to the most basic of duties (cleaning, bringing back grocery carts and helping customers). One courtesy clerk in particular takes the ticket. I’ll call him Randy. A typical workday for Randy consists of him clocking in 5-10 minutes late, walking around the store aimlessly for the entire shift, and then clocking out 5-10 minutes early. My last work shift, I thought it would be wise to show Randy what real work was all about, so I found 4 different dairy products that were out of date and asked Randy to throw them away. Since the product was outdated, Randy had to go through all other similar products on the shelf to see if they too were outdated. Later that evening, I brought in a grocery cart from outside and started to fill random groceries in it. When the cart was filled to an ample amount, I handed Randy the cart and told him a customer forgot his wallet and didn’t want to buy the groceries anymore. Randy was forced to put the items away. By the end of the day Randy earned his paycheck.
Posted on 1/23/09 by Spike
While this is not necessarily a funny example, I think it is a great example of passive aggressive behavior. I work in an industry that employs many blue collar workers working at an hourly rate. By nature of the job they have very little leverage over their boss, the manager. They are easily replaced by a new worker who can become proficient at their task in a matter of days or weeks. The only time they have any leverage is that once a year when the manager tries to squeeze in that much needed vacation. This is the time they choose to quit without notice or just stop showing up, leaving the manager in a lurch and not able to take their vacation. This is not something I have seen happen once or twice but more like forty or fifty times! As with most passive aggressive personalities these people are willing to do damage to themselves just to get at their intended target. These employees often work at the job for several years and do excellent work until they quit abruptly. When a potentially new employer calls the old employer for a reference on the employee. The answer is always a negative one, Terminated – Job abandonment. In the short term the employee sticks it to the manager, but in the long term it is the employee who suffers.
What kind of passive aggression is going on in your workplace?
>Here’s a great look at passive aggression on the world’s stage. Check out this clip from Th Daily Show with John Stewart, featuring the speech of Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the United Nations:
If you can’t click on the link directly, please cut and paste it into your browser. Enjoy!