An executive coaching client came to us recently to explore how to improve their working relationship with their manager. As they described their manager’s behaviour, we heard warning bells. Their manager was displaying passive-aggressive behaviour towards them.
So what is passive aggression? How does it play out in the workplace?
In The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behaviour in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed., passive aggression is defined as a ‘deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger’ (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008). A passive-aggressive type will display behaviour which ‘gets back’ at someone else without that person recognising the underlying anger.
Expressed anger is widely discouraged in today’s corporate world. Who doesn’t have team work and collaboration as corporate values nowadays? No company would welcome the threat of a bullying complaint or want employees with a perceived corporate values misalignment. Therefore, it’s not surprising that passive aggressive behaviour is everywhere. Anger that can’t be expressed in the workplace doesn’t go away. It just manifests into covert (or passive) angry behaviour.
Passive aggression has no boundaries in organisations. It may be peer to peer, team to team, function to function or employee to employer. One particularly difficult situation is when it occurs between manager and employee.
Below are 5 signs your manager may be passive-aggressive towards you:
1/. Your manager does not, or will not, provide you with all the pertinent information for you to do your job well. When confronted, he/she might say ‘Sorry, I was really busy so forgot to send this to you’ or ‘Sorry, I thought I had sent that to you already.’ Withholding information is a powerful way to demonstrate covert anger and get back at another person. Employees can’t perform (and therefore can’t succeed) without information!
2/. Your manager does not invite you to critical meetings where key decisions are made relating to your work, tasks, responsibilities, portfolio and projects. Meetings may be organised when you are unable to attend, or at the last minute. A perfect example is a working mum whose boss schedules early morning or late evening meetings. Another classic scenario is where a manager says ‘Oh, we just happened to touch on that at the end of the last meeting, it was really ad-hoc, and quick. I didn’t think to call you in on it.’ This behaviour leaves employees feeling disempowered, unimportant and out of the loop.
3/. Your manager is vague with their direction, rules and expectations of you. They perpetuate this by not responding (or delaying their response) to your calls or emails. This behaviour is particularly relevant when a deadline exists, and/or passes, while you continue to wait for their direction. Again, this tactic leaves employees unable to perform to their potential.
4/. Your manager does not turn up to your scheduled catch-ups or fails to provide constructive feedback on your performance. This means you don’t get that vitally important one-on-one time and/or valuable input. Information and feedback is power, so they simply remove it from you.
5/. Your manager rarely encourages or facilitates your learning and professional development. Passive-aggressive managers are not comfortable enough with their expertise to share it with their employees. This results in poor training for new employees and no professional development or collaboration for existing employees. They don’t like to be threatened so they block your success. They can’t risk you showing them up as someone different to the carefully constructed version they want others to see.
Taken together or even individually, any or all of these behaviours can have a detrimental effect on your career and on your personal life.
So, if this is happening to you at work, what can you do?
There is no doubt that this is a tricky situation to navigate. Often, raising your concerns with your manager will result in a confused or dismissive look from them. If you aren’t careful, before you know it you will be projected as the high maintenance, needy, whiney and ‘just a tad weird’ member of the team. This is just more passive-aggressive behaviour. Approaching it with senior management or your HR Manager can also prove difficult. After all, you are complaining about what your manager doesn’t do, rather than what he/she does do. Remember – your manager has already been painting an unfavourable picture of you!
By working with an executive coach, you can explore a number of tactics to improve your relationship with your manager. We can help you develop strategies to both confront their behaviour and perform despite it. Together we reflect on your own behaviour, which may also be contributing to your manager’s passive aggression. Most importantly, we assist you to develop stress management and conflict skills to cope with the situation while it lasts.
If you are interested in discussing your situation, contact us today to book an appointment.
Let’s Talk Career has over 30 executive and career coaches throughout Australia who can coach you through your interview preparation. Call us on 1800 284 255 to learn more!
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