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Communication is the keystone for highly functioning teams and achieving maximum productivity. Every company ought to start this way, and most of them did. Still, sadly, when there’s a repeated pattern of communication breakdown, it inevitably has a ripple effect across the entire organization. This is often seen with passive-aggressive bosses at work.

The consequences of these actions can be devastating for professional and personal development. It can eventually lead to higher levels of employee burnout, disengagement, anxiety, and subsequent company turnover.

Unfortunately, these outcomes happen far too often in the workplace. With 4 out of 5 employees reporting that workplace stress affects their personal and professional relationships, the workplace has become an unwelcoming place.[1]

Most people wouldn’t report their true inner feelings and disappointments due to the potential consequences of speaking up. Here are some tips for passive-aggressive handling bosses.

How Do You Handle Passive-Aggressive Bosses?A whopping 64% of employees feel that their leadership team doesn’t provide the support they need to fulfill their job requirements. And nearly 57% of employees report leaving their current roles because of lousy leadership.[2]

Passive-aggressiveness is a trend that can be even more damaging when a leader’s communication is skewed through passive-aggressive behaviors. Whether it be snarky comments, leading with deception, or a lack of owning results, these actions can have dire consequences on the overall performance of organizations and individual team members.

Dealing with a passive-aggressive boss is daunting and challenging. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or shouldn’t be done.

When equipped with the right mindset and tools for navigating these situations, employees can overcome this burden to help their leaders eliminate these bad habits or find the clarity needed to look for another job. But before taking the other side of the road, let’s try taking the high road.

1. Ask The Hard QuestionsMost of the time, even a passive-aggressive boss may not know he is acting the way he does. After all, bad habits aren’t always as apparent to the person who has them. So, keeping people honest is essential to finding solutions to this enduring problem.

In most situations, your boss may think they’re acting the right or normal way. Having acquired their passive-aggressive responses through poorly learned survival habits in their role has become everyday life for them. Regardless of the situation, you will always possess the power to navigate these muddy waters.

By asking questions and prioritizing clarification, you immediately place them in the hot seat for making decisions.[3]

If you feel like you are being left out of the project you can say and ask: “I’m not sure about the role I have on this project. Could you run me through this?”

When you seek more information, it shows that you are investing in creating high-quality outcomes. For example, during passive-aggressive behaviors, data may be withheld or used against you. It is always best to seek knowledge and information to avoid this trap.

Asking for feedback or clarity after a discussion is an effective way to help your boss gradually understand their shortcomings with their communication and efficiently use their words to guide your future actions. By ensuring high-level transparency, you will be able to execute your goals and ensure success in the long term.

2. Seek to Build TrustAmazing things can happen when we intentionally invest time and energy into a relationship. With a passive-aggressive boss in the hot seat, they seek trusting relationships more than you may realize. Just as passive-aggressive managers are unaware of their behavior, often they seek trust among their colleagues and coworkers. They are still human, after all.

Most importantly, leaders act this way by projecting their inner feelings and emotions. When one comes from a place of insecurity, fear, and paranoia, actions reflect that. Employees rarely fully understand the entire picture of what is going on in their leaders’ lives.

While you may be taking the hit with destructive behaviors, know that very few people in the world genuinely want to make you feel bad about yourself.

Investing in a trusting relationship with your leader will yield dividends down the road because you are now an active participant in helping them improve their psychological status. When leaders have employees and colleagues they trust, they can step back and process their actions and overall objectives.

Building trust is foundational for success. Most people don’t realize how simple it can be with effective communication. Master your ability to connect with others and watch passive-aggressive behaviors disintegrate.

3. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow UpHigh-level leaders take action, but not everyone in a leadership position is action-oriented. This holds for everyone including other passive-aggressive people at work.

In many situations, leaders who come from a place of insecurity or fear will rarely take the initiative to put themselves on the line to make a decision.[4]

Unfortunately, this hurts the organization and those involved in the lack of action. This can be devastating when those decisions are needed to create the necessary changes to advance the company and improve your colleagues’ lives.

The scariest phrase any leader can say is, “we’ve always done it this way.”

Why? Because they’re scared of change and when they are, you know that your boss is being passive-aggressive.

However, change is the only guarantee in life and business. That’s a good thing because that means that your organization is adapting to new problems, creating solutions, and finding ways to be more effective at serving your bottom line.

One of the best ways to combat this problem is by owning your results.

You inherently hold others accountable by taking the initiative to follow up and be responsible for your outcomes. People must be kept honest to continue growing and address shortcomings in their judgments. Following up and being a leader through your actions is one of the most effective ways to maximize your chances of making a change.

4. Be Honest and Take ActionMany relationships start with a lack of understanding of expectations, preferences, or individual perspectives. But that doesn’t mean they should continue to stay that way.

Think about the first time you’ve ever met someone.

How agreeable were you with their thoughts and perspectives?Did you maybe agree with things that they said but went against some of your personal beliefs?Have you ever stayed in a friendly or romantic relationship that never came to the next level?The same goes for your relationship with your passive-aggressive boss and this includes the other passive-aggressive people at work. If you really want to emanate change in your organization, your actions should radiate across all functions and levels.

By being honest and having integrity, you can create the needed change you seek in your organization. By repeatedly acting with intention, you will facilitate the necessary change in your organization.

As you keep all of this in mind, know that nothing with change unless you decide to take action. Nothing will change if you aren’t able to make the change you wanted in the first place. Even though it may seem intimidating to take up the challenge and directly communicate with clarity, it will pay off in the long run.

Final ThoughtsIf your boss is still passive-aggressive, keep this in mind and know that all good things come with time. Changes may not occur overnight, but things will change with repeated effort and consistent action.

This doesn’t mean that you have to endure your passive-aggressive boss. While being positive should always be one of your life mottos, there should be a limit to how much you should endure having to deal with a passive-aggressive boss.

All good organizations will change over time. There will be new problems, new employees, and new processes that each company will inevitably face. However, those that can be considered great have to become masters of handling change and growth consistently.

Show your value by being a part of the solution, not the problem. You have what it takes to be a great leader, so show it through your actions, words, and relationships.

Featured photo credit: Christina Morillo via

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