The One Phrase That Shuts Down Passive-Aggressive People At Work

Being clear and direct is the best way to handle someone who's passive aggressive.

co-workers talking about work project DragonImages / Canva Pro

Jennifer Brick describes herself as “Your Career Bestie” in her TikTok bio. She uses her social media platform to help employees navigate the complexities of office politics and make the best of challenging workplace situations.

Brick revealed how to “instantly shut down passive-aggressive people at work and in life,” by using one specific phrase.

She revealed her own personal background with the phrase, saying, “I started using this with passive-aggressive people last year and there has not been even one case where I have used it where the person hasn’t backed off with their toxic little tail between their legs."


Brick advised that the best way to counteract passive-aggressive people at work is to use “your most neutral tone and ask one simple yet direct question."



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In order to stop passive-aggressive co-workers in their tracks, ask them, "Are you trying to be helpful or hurtful?"

According to Psychology Today, passive-aggressive behavior is an indirect way of expressing negative feelings. Instead of directly dealing with conflict, a person who’s passive-aggressive will act in a subtly hostile manner, designed to destabilize the person they're in conflict with.

Passive aggressiveness is a form of conflict avoidance, which is one reason why Brick’s phrase is so useful. By asking a passive-aggressive person if they’re trying to be helpful or hurtful, you’re offering up a gentle form of confrontation, which they’ll most likely try to avoid.

one phrase that shuts down passive-aggressive co-workersPhoto: Darlene Alderson / Pexels 


In two separate TikTok posts, Brick elaborated on the various ways passive-aggressive people might respond to being questioned.

She noted that a passive-aggressive person would never reply by stating they were trying to be hurtful, even if that was their underlying intention. As she explained, “Passive-aggressive behavior is based in conflict avoidance. That’s why they’re trying to conceal their petty intentions in the first place.”



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“The statement I shared in that video is a light confrontation and they are going to avoid it at all costs,” she continued. “They are going to backpedal, they are not going to say that their intention is to be hurtful.”

“They want to conceal their toxic selves,” Brick concluded.

Once you confront your co-workers, they’ll understand that passive-aggressive techniques don’t work on you.

one phrase that shuts down passive-aggressive co-workersPhoto: Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels 


She also offered guidance on how to react when your passive-aggressive co-worker tries to convince you that they’re being helpful.



“Of course, they’re going to say helpful,” she explained. “That is by design.”

“This is a mild conflict, but it is a conflict that is going to give them an out … but this is also exactly why this statement works,” she said.


Brick’s tip for managing passive-aggressive co-workers is successful in that it relies on direct communication, which is the exact opposite communication style that passive-aggressive people use.

It’s always best to lead with kindness in challenging situations, and communicating our needs clearly and directly is one foolproof way to do so. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers issues in the workplace, pop culture analysis, and all things to do with the entertainment industry.