How to Shut Down a Passive Aggressive Coworker

Passive aggression just plain sucks. While we might be able to escape a friendship or relationship that is wrought with eye-rolls and sarcastic side comments simply by leaving the situation (and the person, duh), that unfortunately isn’t the way the professional world works. A passive aggressive colleague—especially one you often have to interact with—can be a huge drain! Luckily, it’s a problem that can be solved, usually without you having to look for a new job (we’ll talk about that, too, though). 

How to shut down a passive aggressive coworker

Passive aggression in the workplace generally manifests from a person’s desire to avoid head-on conflict, likely because they believe it will be destructive. Causes vary from envy and jealousy to personal dislike and personality disorders. Passive aggression is never pleasant to dwell on, but it’s important to understand where it stems from in order to properly attend to it. Some questions to ask yourself:

1. Is my colleague frequently passive aggressive?

2. Is the passive aggression overtly and uniquely targeted at me?

If you think it’s personal, it can be way more hurtful. 

3. Does this behavior negatively interfere with my ability to work efficiently and to the best of my ability? 

4. Does this behavior negatively interfere with my happiness and satisfaction with my job?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, it’s definitely time to address the situation! Here are some practical solutions:

Do some honest self-reflection

Practice constructive confrontation

Ask for help

If the one-on-one confrontation doesn’t work, then there’s no shame in bringing in a third party to help. Whether it be your manager, a level-headed colleague, or an HR officer, someone who isn’t emotionally tied to the situation can help establish necessary boundaries between you and your colleague and create sustainable solutions that work for both of you. Here are some possible solutions to think about:

1. Keep your passive aggressive colleague publicly accountable for their actions

This especially pertains to situations where your colleague is making you look bad. Maybe they purposely didn’t finish their portion of a team project or presentation in hopes that you would pick up the slack before the deadline. That is unacceptable! Try distributing responsibilities for projects in front of a manager or putting them in writing to prevent these slimy situations from happening.  

2. Try to foster a friendship 

Maybe this one’s a stretch, but getting coffee or taking a lunch break together could help make things more amicable. You might not be pals right away, but baby steps are powerful. Who knows? This whole thing might just be a misunderstanding or the product of miscommunication. 

3. Periodically get input

Side note: It’s most important to prioritize your safety and well-being. If your colleague’s passive aggressive behavior enters the territory of harassment or emotional abuse, the situation should be treated very seriously. Report it immediately. Additionally, if you have multiple colleagues who display passive aggression toward you, this could be an indicator of a larger problem with the culture of your workplace. Remember that toxic behavior should not be the norm, and you don’t have to stand for it. Find a workplace that is respectful and welcoming of you every day.

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