10 Ways to Deal with Passive Aggressive Coworkers | 2023

Here is a story about Jane. Jane is a master, passive-aggressive coworker, and a manipulative narcissist. She has spent most of her life sabotaging anything her colleagues have ever done that might bring success to the team.

Most of her colleagues didn’t ever really understand until recently. This is because she does it in a way that makes her look like she’s generous and magnanimous.

The other day, they awarded one of her coworkers’ team leaders for a project. Jane, being on the same team, never congratulated Sam. She started avoiding project meetings with polite excuses and complaints occasionally.

That’s passive aggressiveness.

When people express their negative feelings gradually through their behaviors rather than dealing with them directly, we know this as passive aggressive behavior. It’s defined by a pattern of passive animosity and a refusal to address issues.

These behaviors, according to researchers, originated in childhood because of parenting methods, family dynamics, and other developmental factors (abuse, neglect, and harsh punishment).

Passive aggressive coworkers express unpleasant emotions like anger or frustration without openly addressing them. This behavior frequently results in a gap between how individuals act and what they say, leading to misunderstanding.

This article will show you how to identify passive-aggressive coworkers and easy ways to deal with them.

How to Spot Passive Aggressive coworkers 

Passive aggressive coworkers often display a behavior called “cattiness”. It involves hostile actions that are done on purpose but disguised.

Here are tips to know if your co-worker is passive-aggressive:

Deliberate Procrastination/Purposeful Inefficiency/Chronic Lateness 

A friend of mine told me he gets frustrated with his wife because he asks her to do something and she finds fifty other things to do instead of what he asked her to do.

This can easily frustrate you, making you feel less valued or considered. The actors usually appear to be complaining instead of complying. For example, my friend’s husband would say that he was “tired of her nagging him to do things.” As the victim, you become confused.

Check Out: 13 Best Ways to Deal with Difficult coworkers | 2023

Backhanded Compliments 

Any comment that crosses the boundary between an insult and a compliment is a backhanded compliment.

On closer scrutiny, we’ve all given compliments that were less-than-sincere. Backhanded praise from coworkers may be particularly damaging–while coworkers must be honest with one another, crouching hard realities in deceptive compliments is rarely the way to go.

These are the best-hidden insults out there, and they may not register as negative until hours later when their double meaning hits you. Sherese Ezelle, L.M.H.C., a certified behavioral therapist at One Medical, adds, “Backhanded compliments may be quite hurtful.”

Ezelle adds that they usually arise from a person’s worries about themselves, but it isn’t okay when a friend projects those insecurities into you.

The provider of the so-called “compliment” may not understand that they are harmful, but others, regrettably, know what they are saying well.

Don’t Fail to Read: How to Deal with a Fake Coworker at the Office | 2023

Withdrawal, Sulking, Refusal to Communicate or Using Sarcasm to Avoid Engaging in Meaningful Conversation

Refusing to listen to the other person’s concerns, stonewalling, or refusing to answer inquiries or offer evasive answers is a popular tactic for avoiding serious interactions by passive-aggressive coworkers.

They will use irony to mock or communicate scorn instead of openly stating that they do not want to answer a question. Sarcasm relies heavily on the context and tone of speech, which is why it is more effective when spoken.

Passive-aggressive coworkers possess negative conduct, including being a “keyboard warrior.” People are often more comfortable attacking or confronting someone online than in person since they do not have to face them.

Because people may make broad and harsh comments or statements about a specific person or group without confronting them, social media and the internet are breeding grounds for this type of conduct.

One example is someone who instantly emails or texts “comments or recommendations” after speaking because they are uncomfortable having the conversation face-to-face.

They frequently misconstrued lack of inclusion as passive aggression, akin to “the mean girl” mentality. Because people crave acceptance so much that it overrides their intrinsic sentiments of self-worth, this culture of exclusion and “bullying” fosters feelings of insecurity and insignificance.

Take Out Time to Also Read: How to Deal with Mean Coworkers in the Office | 2023

Playing the Victim or Blame Shifting

A husband filed for divorce and then turned around and said to his wife, “Do you know how hard this is going to be for me?” Everyone loves you.

This type of behaviour is the fabrication or exaggeration of victimhood for various reasons to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, as a coping strategy, attention seeking or diffusion of responsibility.

Those who read this article end up reading: How to Deal with a Coworker who is Trying to Get You Fired

Competition and competitiveness

Competition can also result in “scorekeeping” as parties will adopt a “tit for tat” attitude for comments or actions.

In short, passive-aggressive behaviors result from people who lack the ability to use effective communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills.

Salient attitudes

To spot it, know that a genuine passive aggressive co-worker expresses their dissatisfaction by repeatedly:

  1. Spreading rumors
  2. Coming up with excuses
  3. “Forgetting” or “misplacing” something
  4. Shaming others in public
  5. Misusing their sick days
  6. Arriving late at work
  7. Acting stubborn
  8. Being dismissive about suggestions

And since passive aggressive behaviour comes in so many forms, you can’t confront them straightforwardly without being mistaken for the actual wrong-doer or slammed with an already made-up answer.

Check Also: 10 Signs Your Co-Worker Is Jealous Of You

10 Ways to Deal with Passive Aggressive coworkers

Rather than allowing passive aggressive coworkers to get the best of you, use these effective techniques to deal with them.

Step 1: Discover Their Motivation

Though the conduct of passive aggressive coworkers can be annoying, it’s a good idea to consider why your co-worker is acting in this manner before reacting.

“It’s useful to distinguish the passive from the aggressive,” says Scott Crabtree, CEO of Happy Brain Science. “The same things that make everyone hostile motivate the aggressive component.” Perchance your co-worker feels betrayed, threatened, or insulted.

“What makes people passive is more interesting,” Crabtree adds. “I think it’s fear.” Unfortunately, throughout human history, human strife has been harmful or deadly. It’s normal—and even beneficial—to avoid conflict. Fear prevents passive aggressive coworkers from being forthright, but their aggressiveness causes them to act out or speak up in passive ways. “

While a direct chat is undoubtedly more efficient, it’s simple to see why your co-worker could choose this method when put into context. Knowing this can help you calm down if their actions make you angry, so you can respond more calmly and reasonably.

Read this article: How to Deal with Toxic Coworkers in the Office | 2023

Step 2: Establish boundaries and don’t engage beyond them.

Separating yourself from this negative behavior can help mitigate its effects on your work and mental health. You may still have to interact with the co-worker in some capacity, but you can minimize your contact.

If they make sarcastic remarks as they walk by you, something as simple as putting on headphones while you work can remove the opportunity. Small modifications like this can add up to a much more constructive work milieu.

Read This: How To Set Boundaries At Work

Step 3: Don’t Overreact or Lash Out

One of the hardest things about working with passive aggressive coworkers is keeping your own emotions in check. If you let them get out of hand, they can make it hard to concentrate and do your job well.

Letting passive-aggressive behaviors and personalities get to us, disturb us, and make us show up as less than who we strive to be every day is our biggest mistake. You must model the behavior you want to see in the workplace, so it’s critical not to compromise your own personal values, professional behaviors, and strong communication

This activity enables you to step back from the conflict and look at it objectively. Objectivity makes a big difference in situations like these, where there are a lot of sparks and people who are very annoying.

Step 4: Be Honest.

By not saying anything to your passive aggressive co-worker, you’re essentially overlooking their attitude. Using a perspective of radical candor—be honest while being compassionate, find an acceptable and healthy method to expose the dispute.

Depending on the issue, its severity, and the passive-aggressive coworkers involved, this could take various forms; it is essential not to brush the problem under the rug.

Finding a means to bring up their behavior and let them know why you’re speaking with them is a vital step, whether it’s an informal talk with them or a meeting with a moderator like someone from HR.

Step 5: Consider your role in your co-worker’s behavior.

This point revolves around your role in the situation. In my workplace, I routinely sit down, contemplate, and inspect myself. Most of us have passive-aggressive traits that we aren’t aware of.

Is there anything you’re doing that could contribute to the problem? It’s critical to figure out why you’re acting how you are and then give yourself time to make changes. Personally, I have found this to be a welcome shift, and I have seen the advantages of this technique.

Step 6: Make Use of Emotional Intelligence

We often hear about the value of empathy in the workplace, and this case is an excellent example of how it can be really beneficial.

Understand that passive aggressive coworkers are doing their best. It would be fantastic if they could be more straightforward, but they are dealing with difficulties as best they can. You can help them feel safe so they can be more direct and you can have a meaningful dialogue by bringing great emotional intelligence to conversations with them.

Asking the questions is the most effective way to do this. “Putting yourself in the shoes of the passive-aggressive individual and trying to understand where they’re coming from is ten times more effective,” says Renee Frey, HR and recruiting specialist and founder of TalentQ.

This entails asking probing inquiries and making statements like “Assist me in understanding…” “I’m paying attention…” and “Can you fill me in…” What is the reason for this? “All they want to do is be heard,” adds Frey.

Tell them they can trust you and tell you their honest views and feelings if they aren’t expressing their unhappiness. This puts them at ease and allows them to express themselves more freely.

Step 7: Establish a Relationship Based on Team Spirit

You’ll want to lay a foundation for preventing future conflicts with your passive aggressive coworkers once you’ve resolved your initial argument. Once they trust you, they’ll lower their guard and use less passive-aggression.

Once people see you’re not a threat, they’ll be more comfortable approaching you with problems.

Step 8: Maintain an open mind.

If you notice you are amidst passive aggressive coworkers, investigate whether the problem is related to corporate culture rather than the individual. If many people use passive aggressive conduct, it could suggest bad workplace morale. Everyone will succeed if you create an open, honest, and trusting workplace. 

Step 9: Present the situation objectively rather than accusing them

It’s difficult to want to help someone behaving badly, but here is your chance to gain the upper hand. Instead of accusing them, present the situation objectively, which may put them on the defensive. Remember that your goal is to resolve the situation in a way that meets the requirements of all parties involved.

The following are some expressions you may choose to use in your discussion:

  • “Could you delight in assisting me with understanding this?”
  • “I’m curious about what you think about…”
  • “How does this feel?”What are your thoughts on that? “
  • “I’m paying attention.”
  • “I appreciate your perspective. This is how I felt. “

Step 10: Involve HR.

If you’ve tried having a chat with passive aggressive co-workers but the negative conduct persists and is affecting your mental health, speak with your HR representative. This is a last-ditch effort.

To say the least, working with a passive aggressive coworkers may be exhausting. Not only does it lower your self-esteem and make you feel uneasy, but it’s nearly impossible to get them to confess that something is wrong, making it difficult to resolve the problem if one exists.


It’s one thing to deal with a passive-aggressive coworkers, but it’s another to rehabilitate one.

If you have the willpower, start by discovering their genuine motivations. Don’t label them because they may not understand the phrase or their actions. Not to mention the fear they will experience.

Refocus the dialogue on the team’s and company’s objectives. Make them understand how their sloppiness makes your company appear unprofessional to your clients, reducing the likelihood of them doing business with you in the future.

Give passive aggressive coworkers your full support throughout this time of recovery. This might be the long-awaited materials or an open-door policy (or Slack channel) for consultations. And don’t be afraid to compliment them, even if it means bringing up accomplishments from a year ago.

If you don’t see any progress in the next two months, consider terminating them — whether they’re your top developer, sales rep, or anything else. Otherwise, they’ll keep spreading negativity and eventually stifle the team’s progress.


How do I deal with a passive-aggressive co-worker?

When dealing with a passive aggressive coworkers, be assertive and clear about your expectations. 

What causes passive aggression?

Passive aggression often stems from underlying anger, sadness, or insecurity, of which the person may or may not be consciously aware. 
If this seems like a passive-aggressive response, you may have to fight fire with fire.


The best method to deal with passive-aggressive coworkers is to be unaffected by his behavior. Allowing aggressive people to express themselves is sometimes the best way to deal with them. Being furious all of the time uses too much energy, they will eventually cool down and become more rational.

If you have the willpower, start by discovering their genuine motivations. Refocus the dialogue on the team’s and company’s objectives. Don’t be afraid to compliment them, even if it means bringing up accomplishments from a year ago.

Make use of empathy to bring great emotional intelligence to conversations with them. Asking the appropriate questions is the most effective way to establish a relationship with a passive aggressive co-worker.



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