8.22.14 Issue #650 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Tackle the Elephant in Your Office
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

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
Passive aggressive people spend their lives avoiding direct emotional expression and guarding against open acknowledgment of their anger. One of the most powerful ways to change the behavior in the long-term is to point out anger directly, when it is present in a situation.

Identify the Specific Behaviors and the Impact
Behaviors are actions you can see or hear. Stick to the facts. Our adult mindset is that we jump to interpretations of behaviors and from that we make assumptions and judgments. This generally creates defensiveness because the passive aggressive individual will A) deflect, B) deny, and/or C) exacerbate the emotionality (visually but probably covertly). It’s important to have a neutral, assertive tone and to speak diplomatically. Some examples are:

"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”)

“Your words are inconsistent with your actions. You say you want to be a good team player yet you talk negatively about your co-workers when they aren’t around” (instead of saying: “You have a bad attitude”)

Allow Conversation
Some passive-aggressive individuals behave as they do because they don’t believe they have a voice, or think that they’re not being listened to. When appropriate, include the passive-aggressive person in discussions on challenges and solutions. Solicit their input.

Set Clear Expectations and Follow Through
Establish guidelines for behavior in your office. Expectations need to be concrete and in writing. Be firm but brief and calm. Get employees to agree that they will abide by the standards you set. Avoid analyzing or lengthy discussion. You aren’t a therapist and this isn’t counseling. Just set things straight and get on with your day. If the person violates the agreement, this is the beginning of disciplinary action. Document the action and have them sign a written warning.

Teach Your Team How to Deal with Conflict
Healthy communication means being assertive, nonreactive, and respectful. There’s a sense of collaboration, an interest in resolving the problem. It’s win-win, without blame or accusations. Confronting fear of conflict can go a long way in minimizing passive aggression.

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 nhaller@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here

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