Articles // June 06,2022

Examples Of Passive Aggressive Behaviour In Your Team And How to Manage Them

By Sripriyaa Venkataraman , Curator - Rupal Choudhary Sudrania

For long, teams have been thought of as static groups of individuals who can be governed by a set of norms and customs. But of late, leaders and professors have studied ‘teaming’ and defined it as a more dynamic term that needs to be built and developed constantly.

Given the constant evolution of teams, their composition can change any moment, demanding both emotional and cognitive skills on the part of the leaders. The present day VUCA world demands greater interdependence, communication and collaboration within the team members to achieve the set goals.

In the current post pandemic world, teams will be scattered all over the world, with members located in different cities or even countries while working together on the same project closely. This requires holding up credibility, accountability and realistic timelines while not having the need to micromanage.

While team bonding fosters trust and cohesion, the leader has to navigate through the various psychological aspects of the team members in order to attain organizational growth and learning. In this article, we have attempted to focus on ‘Passive Aggressive Behaviours’, one of the less addressed challenges  managers face while guiding their fellow members towards the team and organizational goals.

PASSIVE AGGRESSION – The hidden limitation lurking within your organisation

The biggest opportunities are those that are hidden in plain sight and passive aggressive behaviours in your team are one of those. It is one of those behaviours that suffers from the iceberg effect – not visible unless you decide to go under the surface to tackle it. It is an additional effort for recognition and management, but the payoff can be significant. Allow us to paint a few scenarios. You could then tick them off to see if any of these ring true for you:

  1. One of your team members is enthusiastic as you share your vision and strategy for the year. They thank you for your leadership and agree on some clear commitments to help achieve that vision and strategy. However, every time you have the milestone conversations, your team member is always coming up short on their commitments. They keep telling you how much effort they are putting in, but the only problem is that there are no results.
  2. You and your peer are having a good conversation around collaboration. You agree to work together on an important project. You are committed and put in all the efforts but there is no reciprocation from the other side.
  3. One of your peers sounds very positive about an idea you have proposed. However, in your combined leadership meeting, she does not vote for your proposal. You are surprised by her volte face and are left wondering what her motivations were.
  4. You had a performance conversation with one of your directs a few weeks back and had provided them some developmental feedback. Of late, you have been observing that the individual has been sullen in meetings and not really showcasing motivation on any of the projects you are driving. You are wondering if you are at fault in delivering that feedback.
  5. Over the past few months, you have been noticing one individual within your larger team who constantly challenges your proposals and proffers his opinion for every suggestion you make. You are wondering what has gotten into him.

These and some others are what we call as irrational behaviours, and they are all classic instances of a common unconscious behaviour called PASSIVE AGGRESSION. We are often disappointed when we observe this behaviour in others. What we should realize is that the person who is exhibiting this behaviour is often unconscious of its display. As a leader you have multiple choices:

  1. Allow the amygdala in your brain to be hijacked and engage in a flight or fight behaviour.
  2. Feel hurt by their behaviour and get into a victim mindset.
  3. Translate the failings in their behaviour as a failing in your capability.
  4. Have the courage to respectfully provide specific actionable feedback, so that they become aware of the impact of their behaviours and explore potential root causes with you.

By now you would have realized that you need 3 skills to manage passive aggressive behaviours:

  1. Widen your awareness and perception to identify instances of passive aggression. Understand your own role and its contribution to the behaviour. Use perspectives from neuroscience to address your leadership blind spots.
  2. Create a climate of positivity and trust within which they would feel comfortable showcasing vulnerability. Give them a voice and practice active listening to get to the root cause of their behaviours.
  3. Pluck the courage to have an assertive conversation based on your observations. Discuss the impact their behaviour is having and the rationale behind it. Proactively deal with the behaviour.

Left unaddressed, passive aggression is like an ugly rash – discomfiting, unnecessary and sometimes painful. It is your discernment and courage that will remove this rash within your organization.

If not acted upon in time, passive aggression could be intensely damaging. It could not only hamper productivity but also cause stress, anxiety, and frustration within the team.

So, the right time to act is now! The more you postpone your actions, the higher number of chances you give to the elephant in the room to cause unintentional damage to the team as well as the organization.

Good luck for identifying such negative psychological issues that are preventing your members and yourself from growing into a potentially high-achievement team. Airing out the issues and resolving them could lead you to clearing roadblocks on your path to success.

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