Warning: Passive-Aggressive Behavior Ahead! How-To Spot the Signs and Avoid Destruction in the Workplace

Jan 05, 2016

Warning: Passive-Aggressive Behavior Ahead

The term "passive-aggressive" conjures up a variety of images, from an overbearing parent (think Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond) or an indecisive friend (does Chandler Bing ring a bell?) to an annoying boss (best represented by Mr. Lumbergh in the movie Office Space).

While passive-aggressive behavior may make for good TV ratings, it can wreak havoc in the workplace. Often misunderstood and misused, the term passive-aggressive is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.

Put into practice, passive-aggressive behavior can rear its ugly head in the form of co-workers who are hostile, unreasonable, unreliable and hard to communicate with. For example, someone who handles conflict via e-mail instead of face-to-face, agrees to help with a presentation and then drops the ball, withholds important information needed for a task, or calls in sick when a big project is due.

Does this sound like anyone you know (or work with or manage)?

There are many causes of passive-aggressive behavior, ranging from low self-esteem, timidness, insecurity, inability to express emotions, and fear of confrontation, to name a few.

Many people have the thinking patterns that could lead to passive aggressive behavior, and in fact we see this in a lot of executive profiles. Here is a classic example of passive aggressive behavior from a manager: At the annual review of their direct reports, the manager is very disappointed with the team's performance and scores each employee with a low score. When the manager goes over the scores with each team member, they are shocked and it comes as a surprise. The manager had not addressed the issues and or communicated their expectations (their "shoulds") throughout the year and the results were low performance from the team. The manager had expected everyone to know how to meet the "shoulds" and then judged everyone in an aggressive way in the performance review.

How do I identify the potential for passive aggressive behavior in a potential hire when interviewing?

Unfortunately, these are not qualities most people will reveal when applying for a job. However, there are common characteristics for potential passive-aggressive behavior that can be identified during the interview process using a pre-employment assessment test, such as the ZERORISK Hiring System, which encompasses more than 500 successful hiring benchmarks across 25 industries. More than a simple personality quiz, the ZERORISK Hiring System objectively measures a candidate's emotional intelligence, which means an individual's ability to recognize and regulate emotions in themselves and others – BINGO!

In addition, each candidate is scored on six "thinking facets" or sections allowing hiring managers to compare each candidate to the thinking patterns and emotional intelligence competencies of top performers to determine the likelihood of success.

No one wants to work in a "toxic environment" and passive-aggressive people can send your company culture into a tailspin, along with employee productivity and bottom-line results. Don't be passive-aggressive about eliminating passive-aggressive behavior!

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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