Know what to look for
At one time or another we've all had to deal with passive aggressive people. Be it our impossible to please mother-in-law, or that one co-worker who can't seem to help herself from being the ultimate mean girl, it always sucks and leaves you feeling more than a little crazy.
A passive aggressive person doesn't WANT to make you angry or uncomfortable, they just don't know how to deal with their feelings. But that doesn't mean you should have to accept their bad behavior.
If you suspect a person you know might be passive aggressive here are some signs to look out for and what you should do to deal with them.
1. They ask questions that put you on the defensive
If someone responds to a statement you've made with something like "are you insane?" or "why would I ever do that?" and you aren't suggesting they hug a shark in the deep ocean, they're being passive aggressive. These kind of over-the-top attack-based rhetorical questions immediately put the person on the receiving end in the defensive.
Forget having a civil conversation now! When someone addresses you this way and you go on the defense neither of you feel free to be yourselves. That's a terrible foundation on which to build a friendship.
2. They give you a backhanded compliment
Sometimes people use passive aggressive behavior to handle uncomfortable feelings like jealousy. If you've just bought a new bracelet that you really love and you show it to a friend, a passive aggressive response from them could be something like "you're so lucky, my wrists are too thin to pull something like that off."
They might not mean to be a total jerk, but because they aren't processing their emotions in a healthy productive way, they lash out in this passive aggressive way that leaves you feeling totally stung. Yuck.
3. They're refuse to engage in conflict
Be it your partner playing on their cell phone while you try to talk about a serious issue, or a roommate who keeps avoiding that household meeting to discuss chores, NOT engaging is passive aggressive, too. Dr. Scott Wexler calls it "sugar coated hostility," and he's right.
When a person refuses to address a conflict, they are being immature and putting you in a deeply frustrating position. Avoid the temptation to play by their rules and pretend it never happened. The only way to fight passive aggressive behavior is with measured, practical, direct behavior.
4. They're always, always, always late
While some actions of a passive aggressive person are conscious, others aren't. Lateness and procrastination are two examples of this. You have a friend who is always fifteen minutes, or a co-worker who is constantly pushing the deadline back on his latest project. They are deliberately trying to waste your time or frustrate you, even though it might feel this way.
Passive aggressive people have a need for control, adhering to their own schedule (however detrimental it may be to others) is a coping mechanism for the reality of the fact at the end of the day the world doesn't stop for them.
5. They engage in classic 'Mean Girl' behavior
A passive aggressive person avoids conflict at all costs, but that doesn't mean they get along with someone. If they don't like a co-worker, or they're mad at a friend they won't address this problem head on, they're much more likely to do something like plan a girls night and not invite the friend in question.
If you are on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, address the passive aggressive person in question directly. This makes it clear you won't put up with tacit mistreatment or hostility just because they don't know how to communicate their feelings in a healthy manner.
6. They are dishonest about their feelings
If you or I were to have a bad day or get our feelings hurt when our partner ate the last ice cream sandwich, we would have no problem expressing that. That's not the case with a passive aggressive person. When they are pouting or hurt and you ask them what's wrong they will usually lie about their feelings. "I'm fine," they'll say.
Let's be totally clear, they aren't like, maliciously telling lies, they are keeping their real feelings to themselves because the idea of real conflict is that scary to them. You can't shake the truth out of them, but you can let the passive aggressive person in question know that you're there when they're ready to talk. But until they are willing to talk about what's wrong, take them at their word, do not treat them with kid gloves.