How to Handle a Passive-Aggressive Boss
There are ways to manage a passive-aggressive boss and boost work morale.
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You've probably met a person in your life who constantly gave you the cold shoulder, indirectly insulted you, or frequently avoided important events. Interactions can leave you feeling overwhelmed and even unsure of how to manage your relationship with them. If you have, then you've experienced someone who displays passive-aggressive behaviors.
A passive-aggressive person is generally someone who expresses their dislike or anger towards something in an indirect manner. They may not say exactly how they feel directly to you, but often times you can feel the negative energy they're releasing. While it's frustrating to deal with a family member who acts this way, it's even harder to deal with your boss who does the same.
Here are a few ways to manage a passive-agressive boss or manager.
It's a natural reaction to strike back when you feel threatened. We oftentimes want to show them how it feels and hopefully, they'll see how they've been treating us and stop. However, trying to get even won't make them respect and appreciate you more as a person.
If anything, they'll do it more because they believe that's how you want to communicate.
Instead, continue to display emotional control and only display behaviors that you want to see around you, even if temptation feels hard to resist. I've found that counting for a few seconds while focusing on my breath helps to regain my thoughts.
Passive-aggressive behavior stems from a person not knowing how to properly address conflict and concerns. Although it usually isn't done purposely, that doesn't mean you should pretend it's not happening. This sort of behavior will eat away at your mental and emotional wellbeing.
It can lead to your own depression if the situation doesn't digress. So, when feeling compassionate for them because they lack emotional maturity, make sure to always be aware and attentive to your own mental needs.
Confront them in a nonjudgmental way.
If one of your concerns with them is that they're always withholding information and trying to remain elusive, then it's likely they're struggling with being an effective leader. You may have to address them. Know that they likely won't conclude that they're the problem.
When you're confronting them, make sure you're in a private place and you approach delicately. I've found that asking about a specific incident and going from there helps. For instance, saying something like, "I have been struggling with ___ and would like to fix this. What can we do to get there?"
I know it doesn't seem fair that you have to hold your boss's hand through their journey, but they're a person too. You want them to trust you so they will find it easier to communicate with you.
Set clear expectations.
If your boss acts passive-aggressively when it comes to giving feedback, you'll have to the lead. First, you'll need to talk to them by referring to a specific situation where you would've really valued their honest feedback. Then set bi-weekly meetings to discuss your progress on projects and ways to improve.
Even if they haven't given you clear feedback throughout the week, they know they're accountable for giving it to you during your meetings.
Start looking for new opportunities.
If you've tried all of the above and nothing seems to be working, consider looking for new opportunities. If you love the company you're at and don't want to leave, see if you can get transferred to a new team for a lateral career move.
However, if you've noticed that all the leaders at your job seem to display the same behaviors, then it's time you start looking for a new job at a different company. There comes a time where you have to accept that you did your best and it's time to move on, not only for your professional life but also for your mental and emotional health.
I know it's frustrating to feel like you have to walk on eggshells with a grown-up, but not everyone you'll cross paths with in life will have the same emotional maturity as you, even if that person is professionally above you. Try to help them like you would a family member. If all else fails, it might be time to dust off your resume.