We all know someone who fits this bill. They may mock others, can be openly sarcastic, but when you try to hold them to account they'll tell you it was just a joke. People with a passive-aggressive disposition can be a nightmare to manage.

The key to keeping them productive is to identify their nature. Passive-aggressive people tend to be quite negative and spotting them can be a simple task. Look for the identifying markers like discontent, disruptive tendencies and an unwillingness to take responsibility. They will often be late or miss deadlines, but they’ll always have an answer and it will never be their fault. Passive-aggressive people find it hard to be encouraging and will often put people down or downplay their achievements. When cornered or called out on their malicious deeds, they'll play it down or pretend they were joking.

Dealing with passive-aggressive individuals can make days longer and your nights shorter. Once you have identified someone with a passive-aggressive disposition you need to address it with some urgency. Left unchecked these individuals can spread dissent and negativity through the whole office. If you don't take action, pretty soon you'll have dark clouds looming over everyone's heads.

Tackle the issue with some care. It's common for passive-aggressive folks to feel bullied and unless you treat them correctly you can be certain they'll tell the world you're just picking on them and they can be quite convincing. Try following these simple steps if you have a passive-aggressive team member and you want an easier life.

Be calm
Passive-aggressive people are the way they are because they abhor conflict and confrontation. If you make the mistake of getting angry or emotional they will just withdraw and you'll get nothing but a cold shoulder and name calling behind your back. By keeping calm and level-headed, you can usually reach them or at least reach a compromise.

Talk in private
The last thing you want to do is be drawn into a public confrontation with a passive-aggressive individual. They will play the victim and make you look like a tyrant. It is better not to give them an audience to play to. Take them aside and speak to them in private with as little fuss as possible.

Be direct and give examples.
You should be cautious when dealing with those of a passive-aggressive disposition. As they often harbour negative tendencies they're prone to behaving like the victim. For example, if they are tardy returning from lunch it's no use being vague about it. You need to have definitive examples, so keep records.

Mind your language.
There's nothing worse than persecuting a passive-aggressive individual. It gives flesh to all their theories. Instead, hold regular meetings and make sure to address points of concern to the whole team using words like 'we', 'everyone' and 'the team'. Be careful to field these concerns to the whole team even if you are focussing on one person.

Get to the cause.

Usually, passive-aggressive individuals have triggers which set them off. Due to their contradictory nature they're unlikely to tell you what they are and if pressed will simply explain that 'they are fine'. A good manager should be able to use questioning to probe a little deeper and discover what's really set them off and once you have determined what that cause is, it's possible to find a resolution.


Don't give up on a passive-aggressive member of your team. They may be hard to manage but they are manageable. You'll just need to employ a different approach and keep an eye on them.