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The Problem with Passive Aggressive Communication: How and Why to Change Part 2

Passive aggressive communication is like sending a message in code and expecting the recipient to understand and act on that message, but only giving them half of the key to the code.

Let me just admit one thing as we begin, passive aggressive communication (both verbal and nonverbal) is a problem. In part 1 I covered three reasons why I saw it was a problem in my life.  In part 2, I cover the ways in which I continue to attempt to rid myself of passive aggressive communication.

I say “continue to attempt” because I see this as an ongoing process. Passive aggressive communication is something that is learned and developed over time. Change is rarely an easy three step process that we work at once and are now a new person. Change is often difficult and grueling over a period of time. We have to fight our desire to return to what we feel is normal, because what is normal for us feels easy. We have to look at changing our communication the same way we would like at changing our diets or our exercise routines. It may seem great and easy and exciting at first, but there will come a point when we mentally seek to return to a far less stressful moment, and until our new behavior is the new normal we have to continue to work and evaluate and work a bit more.

1. Realize this change is about you, not someone else. This is the first stage because it is the most difficult. Passive aggressive communication is not just about communicating a message, it is about controlling behavior through that message. One of my friends jokingly responded to the posting of part 1 of this article on facebook with the message “Ok, that’s fine, I guess we won’t do that anymore because Kyle doesn’t like it. No worries.” Now, he was totally joking (if you knew him and our relationship you wouldn’t have any doubt he was joking) but it is a great example of how passive aggressive communication seeks to control behavior. If he was to say that in actual response, the message would not be one said in agreement, but rather said to single out in an attempt to force me to change MY message. So, thank you for the example Dustin.

Moving away from passive aggressive communication is about realizing that the people you are communicating with are their own person. Their decisions are their own just as your decisions are your own. Your attempt to control them is based on the faulty premise that their actions should line up with how you feel they should act, think, or believe. Just as you examine the facts surrounding a situation and make your decision others do that for themselves as well. It is not your job to control the outcome, it is simply your job to…

Their decisions are their own just as your decisions are your own. Your attempt to control them is based on the faulty premise that their actions should line up with how you feel they should act, think, or believe.

2. Communicate a clear message. The only way in which we can ensure that our message is received just as it is intended is to send the message with exactly what we intend the message to mean. This is far more than just our words. Our tone, body language, timing, and approach all play into how the message is sent in an attempt to ensure it is received how we intend. Don’t miss this key concept. A misconception I have had in the past that has led to passive aggressive communication is: saying exactly what you mean is harsh, cold, and uncaring of another person’s emotions and heart. It is not. You can craft your message to be clear without being destructive. Often, people disguise their harshness, rudeness, and hard hearts as “saying what I mean”. Crafting a message involves much more than just our words. This disguise routinely appears as people that are proud of their domineering nature and their ability to bend other people to their will because of their dominant communication. That’s not healthy communication either and just because you move away from passive aggressive communication doesn’t mean that you will make people feel that way (it’s a good assumption that you have felt that way) just because you are clear with your communication.

However, because we are not in control of the other person and their thoughts, emotions, and actions, we can only ensure that we have sent the message that was intended. This is why the confusion that surrounds passive aggressive communication is so destructive. What you are saying/doing is at odds with your message. Now we have added an extra layer to the communication that depends on the other person to decipher. It’s like sending a message in code and expecting the recipient to understand and act on that message, but only giving them half of the key to the code. Part of communicating clear messages is…

3. Believe what others say and mean what you say and hold yourself and others to that standard. This is one of those actions that will take time to solidify both in your actions as well as in how people deal with you. Your actions must line up with your words and thoughts here because inconsistency will lead to confusion. Look at it this way. Passive aggressiveness is a language that you no longer speak. You don’t speak this language and, like any foreign language you don’t speak, you can’t respond to what you don’t understand. So your communication is simple. When you have a message to convey you convey that message clearly through your words and actions. When someone is attempting to communicate a message to you listen to what they say and do and act upon that. Don’t guess at what they mean. Don’t respond to what other people say someone else is saying. Don’t speak that language.

That can be painful because it is retraining your brain as well as others to act and respond in a different way than is typical for the communication that surrounds you. However, once others begin to understand that you will act upon what they say, they will begin saying what they mean to you. Not only have you removed passive aggressive communication from your behavior, you have begun to reframe the way others interact with you. The messages you send and the messages you receive become simplified. Communication becomes more clear and confusion and stress are reduced.

I wish you luck and fortitude as you move forward. Remain firm in your resolution to change how you communicate and your attempt to remove the stress and anxiety with having to craft and/or decode messages that were sent that were at odds to what was said.

If you missed part 1  and want to catch up just click here to go back and catch up.

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