Until it Hurts (Passive-Aggressive behavior is just plain stupid)
Some people are perpetually tardy because they don't have a good sense of time, or try to squeeze too much into the time they have available. Others are late because it's a passive-aggressive way to be in control.”- Karen Sherman
Some employees have evolved, through some genetic mutation, into what is called Pass-Aggressive behavior. One would think, by this time in human history, that we as a species would have moved on from this type of behavior. It simply wreaks havoc on society in general and businesses in particular.
The openly aggressive brand of employee is relatively easy to deal with for a manager. If you are of this type I must send on a special message. Eventually, you will resort to the Top 11 List of Things Not to Say to Your Boss, one too many times. Your boss will write you up for insubordination and when your attitude doesn’t change, you will be terminated. Don’t get into that position. Stop being openly aggressive or find a job where you can rest in your internal happy place and show off the good attitude lurking inside you.
The Passive-Aggressive brand of employee is very difficult to manage because, technically, they follow the rules but they do it in a typically low-key way that seems designed to prove their manager wrong or to show that life at work really is the dumps. Sometimes, they follow the rules so stringently that it actually brings productivity to a halt and morale to all time lows. Sometimes they may use a mocking tone when announcing to everyone in the office, “Look! I am following the rules!”
If it seems as though I am having a hard time describing this behavior, it is because I am. This is the most sinister aspect of the Passive-Aggressive behavior – it is hard to pin down, root out, and correct. The closest I have been able to come to accurately describe it is this.
There is a saying in business that has been around for decades. “What is professionalism? I don’t know. But you know it when you see it.” It is much the same for the passive-aggressive employee. If asked to describe a passive-aggressive, one is reduced to fumbling about for words and then resorting to giving real life examples. Since it is in my nature, sometimes, to try to achieve the impossible, I am going to give it my best shot before resorting to the real life examples where I must change the names to protect the guilty.
The passive-aggressive, henceforth referred to as a PA, is generally not happy with his work life. He’s probably not too happy with his personal life either. This kind of person, unhappy, will attempt to demonstrate how dysfunctional things are by working very hard to let things fail, and try to arrange things to look like they are not at fault. A PA may, when under instructions from his boss that no overtime should be taken for the rest of the week if possible, stop a job midway, clock out and go home. This may be a low risk decision on his part if he is in shipping and receiving and he was sweeping the floor. However, if he works in a hospital as an equipment repair technician and he leaves a much needed ventilator broken, suddenly this passive aggressive behavior becomes a serious issue. The behavior, though, is the same. What the PA is trying to do here is to show the boss that his restrictions on overtime are a bad idea. How does he do this? He follows the rule to the letter regardless of the circumstances. If called onto the carpet about leaving a job half finished, the PA now has the ammunition. “But you said no overtime.” Thereby, placing the blame for the half finished work on his manager.
The core of the PA problem really is one of control. Using a manager’s directions against the manager, causing havoc in a situation and sitting idly by as if the sky is falling but “it’s not my fault.” Another way the PA tries to gain control of the situation is to immediately find fault with his manager’s ideas and then manipulating circumstances to insure that the problems he identified really do happen. A PA who has been told that he must follow up with every one of his customers after delivering the product to make sure they are satisfied, may immediately tell his manager, “But my customer is not always available when I call,” letting out a pitiful sigh, “but I will do my best”. In the back of his mind, the PA is already thinking that he doesn’t like customer follow ups anyway and he’ll show his dipstick manager this is not going to work. Over the following days, the PA will make half hearted attempts at contacting the customer by phone or by dropping by unannounced and will use his inability to connect with the customer to prove to his manager that customer follow-ups are not working because he can never get in touch with them. How do we know this is passive-aggressive? The PA won’t use email. He won’t use something very effective at setting up appointments, instead he uses techniques that rarely work to insure the project fails.
The PA uses a manager’s words against him by taking those words and following the directions to illogical limits. For instance, a service manager may instruct his staff to watch spending on parts towards the end a month to make sure their office makes its profit numbers. Most normal employees will understand that this means keep repairs as low as possible and if something can wait until the new month starts without impacting the customer then they should let it wait or at least talk to the manager and ask what they should do. A PA employee will use this to his advantage and make no repairs which require parts or services and let the customer suffer. If confronted with this kind of approach, the PA most likely will not talk to his boss, but will tell the customer “My boss said not to spend any money.”
Notice to the PA: The fastest way for you to get to the unemployment line is to air dirty laundry in front of your customer. It does not make you look good, nor does it hurt your manager. In fact, what you don’t realize, is that your manager most likely, has a better relationship with your customer than you do. You can not play the two against each other with any success, so don’t try it.
Here are your bullet statements:
• Passive Aggressive behavior is hard to root out. Don’t be a PA. It will only cause your manager to scrutinize your work life more intensely.
• Try to take a common sense approach to your manager’s rules. A good rule of thumb is to follow the rules as closely as you can, matching the intent of your manager not the direct letter of the rule especially if your customer or coworkers are negatively impacted. Actually, when directions are given by a manager, they are done so, with the assumption that a person with common sense will understand the intent.
• Never play your manager against the customer or vice-versa. Because your manager has a better relationship with your customer anyway.