Tackle the Elephant in Your Office
The elephant in the room - an idiom for an issue or problem that is very obvious, but is ignored by those involved for their own convenience or comfort. Today’s elephant is passive aggressive behavior. It is the heaviest form of conflict and the most difficult to eradicate. In relationships, passive aggressive behaviors are often used to avoid short-term conflict. But in the long-term, these dynamics can be even more destructive than outright aggression.
As the label ‘passive-aggressive’ suggests, this is where someone expresses his or her anger indirectly. A person with a passive-aggressive behavior pattern may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists. There's a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does. The behavior can be difficult to identify, and even tougher to change. Left unaddressed, passive-aggressive actions will spread to other employees and create a culture of heel dragging and mute rebellion.
We all have passive behaviors that come up when we don't want to deal with conflict directly or do a task. We all hedge, fudge and remain noncommittal on issues some of the time. That's normal. It's only when repeated passivity creates continual tension and anger in the office that it becomes a serious issue that must be addressed.
Passive-aggressive behavior erodes relationships and workplace morale. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common ways anger is displayed in the workplace. Because people fear retaliation for speaking up, or even fear for their jobs, anger goes deep and oozes out in unhealthy ways. In many cases, the problem is a lack of skill - employees do not have the tools to know how to handle disagreements and their anger goes ‘underground’.
The most common form of passive aggressive behavior is the silent treatment. “I’m not angry, I just don’t want to talk” or “What’s the matter? Can’t I just be quiet?” It might appear as sugar-coated hostility and snarky comments followed by “I was just joking…can’t you take a joke?!” The passive aggressive person may appear to be in agreement but then undermines you once you have left the room.This is extremely frustrating for both parties involved, and also incredibly unproductive. Consider the time wasted talking behind others’ backs or being less than open and honest. If you're struggling with passive-aggressive behavior in your practice, here are some strategies to tackle that elephant.
Call It Out
Identify the Specific Behaviors and the Impact
"When you joke like that I feel offended, and I notice that others leave the room” (instead of saying: “You are offensive”)
“You avoided eye contact with me all day but you were friendly with everyone else” (instead of saying: “You snubbed me”)
Set Clear Expectations and Follow Through
Teach Your Team How to Deal with Conflict
McKenzie Management’s Conflict Competence Training is a practical skill-building program that improves team dynamics and creates a conflict-healthy practice. Although passive-aggressive behavior is not pleasant to deal with, there are ways to minimize the damage. Speaking up about unspoken conflict is one of the most important tasks of successful leadership. The bottom line is that passive-aggressive employees aren't honest, and the best way to counter that is to be honest yourself. If there’s an elephant in your office, don’t try to sweep it under the rug! Contact me today so we can discuss how to deal with conflict in your practice.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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