Teamwork is often associated with a number of difficulties, such as communication problems, varying visions regarding project implementation, or personal resentment that negatively affect the entire group. The situation becomes much more difficult when you are dealing with an employee who is unable (consciously or unconsciously) to adequately express their feelings and resolve conflicts, thus exhibiting violent behavior towards team members. Passive aggression in the workplace creates a toxic environment and significantly impedes the completion of assigned tasks. Below, we explain what passive aggression in the workplace is, how to deal with it, and provide examples of passive-aggressive behavior. Read on to find out more.

Passive aggression in the workplace – table of contents:

  1. What is passive aggression?
  2. Examples of passive-aggressive behavior
  3. Ways to deal with passive aggression in the workplace
  4. Summary

What is passive aggression?

The concept of passive aggression is quite difficult to define, as depending on the person, it can manifest in various forms and be caused by several reasons (e.g. childhood problems, lack of appropriate role models, negative experiences in other groups).

However, it is usually intentional, masked, and aimed at hurting the other person without involving in open conflicts. What are the signs of passive aggression? For example, spreading gossip, talking behind one’s back, being dismissive, taking offense, or inducing guilt. If passive aggression takes the form of annoying, repetitive behavior, it can be described as psychological violence and lead to serious mental health problems.

passive aggression

Examples of passive-aggressive behavior

When do we deal with passive aggression in the workplace? Such behavior becomes noticeable only after it is frequently and regularly repeated. Let’s take a closer look at the most common examples of passive-aggressive behavior:

  • shifting responsibility for one’s tasks (also delays and mistakes) on other people,
  • withholding important information to make the other person look bad in this way,
  • not accepting explanations or apologies for mistakes from colleagues,
  • failing to fulfill one’s requests due to “more important things”,
  • belittling coworkers’ achievements,
  • snarky remarks regarding appearance, knowledge or skills in relation to work situations,
  • pointing out mistakes in public (e.g., in front of colleagues or superiors),
  • procrastinating on tasks, which affects other people (e.g. coworkers will find it difficult to meet a deadline for this reason),
  • playing the victim.

Ways to deal with passive aggression in the workplace

Passive aggression leads to severe consequences – both for those who feel victimized by this type of behavior (especially in the psychological area) and for the team as a whole (reduced work efficiency, project delays, lower work commitment, etc.). To avoid such outcomes, it is necessary to take specific steps, for example, confront a problematic employee and strengthen the employee’s soft skills.

Confront a problematic person

To properly deal with passive aggression in the workplace is to keep calm and not react emotionally to the other person’s behavior. A good tactic, then, will be to force an employee who is unable to blow off steam in a professional manner to openly talk to them in private, discuss their behavior, and ask what it stems from.

It is necessary to adequately prepare for such a conversation to be able to fend off arguments when a person – referring to specific situations – tries to play the victim, blame others or manipulate in yet another way. Taking a hard line on this is essential, and perhaps it will let you identify the reasons for such behavior, and then point out possible solutions.

Organize soft skills training

Resolving conflicts, communicating within a team, dealing with stress – these are just a few examples of soft skills training you can organize for your employees to mitigate the consequences of passive aggression.

Since their needs may differ depending on the position, remember to get them into groups. In this way, regular employees will improve their socio-emotional skills, and managers will be able to identify inappropriate behavior more effectively, as well as respond to it before it’s too late.


Passive aggression in the workplace can considerably disrupt teamwork, as well as lead to lower efficiency and general dissatisfaction with working conditions. Victimized employees may even decide to leave their job, and thereby aggression can be taken out on other people.

If you don’t want to face such consequences, carefully observe the way individual employees are collaborating and look for alarming signs. After all, the earlier you notice repetitive negative behavior, the easier it will be for you to respond to it and ensure that it doesn’t escalate.

Read also: Hostility in the workplace.

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.