What Does it Mean to be “Passive Aggressive?”

Usually when we think of communication, we think of a spectrum from passive to aggressive. The question then becomes, what does it mean to be passive aggressive?

In short, being passive aggressive is a form of communication where the sender of the message does so in a way that is backhanded, rude, covert, or condescending. Often this style of communication is done when someone wants to make a point, but lacks the skills to do so directly, politely, or assertively. It could also be because the sender of the message wants to be “sneaky” about their intention.

For example, I often bring my dog with me to work. This, inevitably, leads to dog hair being a part of the office. I try to vacuum as often as I can, but there are times where it goes a bit longer without me having the chance to vacuum than I’d prefer.

In this case, there are two ways someone could point this to my attention. An assertive approach may sound something like, “It looks very nice and neat around here, however, I noticed some dog hair on the floors. I don’t mind so much, but I just wanted to mention this to you because I know you’re interviewing someone later today and I want you to be able to make a strong, professional impression.”

Alternatively, a passive aggressive way to go about it may sound like this: “Not very professional to have dog hair visible on the floor now, is it?”

In conclusion, people are often accidently passive aggressive for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they lack the skills to speak assertively. Other times, it may be because they don’t want to be overly confrontational. Whatever the reasons, learning the skills to speak assertively will improve your image with others, make you more respected, and increase your ability to influence people in a positive way.

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