What is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?

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What is passive-aggressive behaviour? Passive-aggressiveness, being passive-aggressive or demonstrating passive-aggressive behaviour is a description that we use to describe the visible behaviours that another person demonstrates. The behaviour is often described alongside other types of behaviour such as passive behaviour, aggressive behaviour and assertive behaviour.

What is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?

Passive-aggressive behaviour is normally a gut-based or natural reaction to an internal or external event that triggers an emotional feeling which results in passive-aggressive behaviour being demonstrated. There is no 'fixed list' of traits that would define passive-aggressive behaviour and therefore help us to ultimately answer the question of what is passive-aggressive behaviour.

There are some general traits though which are demonstrated through the 3 main elements that we use to communicate - body language, voice and words.

What is passive-ggressive Behaviour - Assertiveness Skills Training Course - Revolution Learning and Development

Passive-Aggressive Body Language

Examples of passive-aggressive body language may include:

  • Avoiding eye contact - not looking toward someone you are communicating with i.e. looking at the floor or in another direction
  • False smiling - smiling when you don't really mean it (in a sarcastic way)
  • Fiddling - playing with something in your hands, jewellery, clothing or hair
  • Frowning - clenching the eyes together and tightening the lips
  • Sulking - showing that you are angry, hurt or upset

Passive-Aggressive Voice

Examples of passive-aggressive voice may include:

  • Dismissive - showing you don't agree or want to communicate
  • Critical - giving the impression that what is being said is wrong
  • Sarcastic - joking or questioning tone
  • Moaning - winning voice

Passive-Aggressive Words

  • Now what have I done wrong
  • It’s not fair
  • This will never work
  • Can’t
  • I haven’t done it yet

Types of Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

There are various ways that passive-aggressive behaviour is used or demonstrated. Here are some examples:

  1. You openly agree with someone to their face during conversation. You are polite and friendly so therefore give the impression that everything is OK. You then proceed to tell someone else that you don't agree, they are wrong, it shouldn't be done and that if the same thing comes up again, you describe exactly how you are going to deal with it.
  2. The words that you use describe a position of being OK. You might say something like 'yeah, I'm OK. However, your body language and tone paint a completely different picture.
  3. You constantly make excuses not to do something or blame other people for your short-falls

The Danger of Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

Passive-aggressive behaviour can be seen to be manipulative. We use it to try and make someone feel or think a certain way because we haven't got the confidence to tell them openly what the issue or problem is.

It can backfire and relationships become damaged and passive-aggressive behaviour rarely leads to issues being resolved.

The Alternative to Passive-Aggressiveness

If you find that you are passive-aggressive or have been provided with some feedback that you are passive-aggressive then looking at alternative types of behaviour to get your message across will be very beneficial to you. For example, assertiveness is a great behaviour to master. Often misunderstood in that only passive people need to be more assertive, assertiveness can help you to communicate in a direct, confident and clear way which tends to get results, maintains relationships and generates 2-way respect.

Further Learning

If you would like to learn more about passive-aggressive behaviour and the question of what is passive-aggressive behaviour then attending an Assertiveness Skills training course can help. Take a look at Assertiveness Training from our training partner Revolution Learning and Development Ltd.


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