Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Passive aggressive? Not I!

More and more often I hear friends across a variety of industries complain about their work teams being passive-aggressive, and coworkers being unable to face a problem head-on.
Sure enough, I have been caught in this same venting. Either after a meeting ends and no resolution was reached to a pending issue or after speaking with a person requesting a project without offering materials to complete the work- but needing it done tomorrow.
We've all been there, and it seems that when I vent or hear the venting we are all the warriors. We want to fight, we want the passion, we want the angry emails without the white flag smiley faces above the signature!
Then, I wondered. Are "we" really the warriors? Or are we simply members of the town complaining about the problems without being willing to go off to battle, too?
Thankfully, compared to those in the middle ages, our problems don't revolve around famine or black death, and our warriors don't have to take over neighboring towns for survival. The point is, we all vent but we're not all warriors venting rightfully.
One of my favorite quotes by Denis Waitley is, "There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept responsibility for changing them." Passive-aggressive behavior can happen at any given time of the day in small or large expressions alike, and it is up to you to live it, copy it, or change it.
For example:
* During a meeting Sally commented on the typos a page on the company website had, without knowing that web administrators had been dealing with tech issues all morning. When Sally asked William when the typos would be fixed she was told, "this is a minor problem, and not your job to worry about, we'll figure it out later." Sally felt embarrassed and decided not to bring up her second idea about a sales application that could have made the company a ton of mulla... a.k.a., money.
* Mike was having difficulty adjusting to his new job after being there for 3 months because people didn't interact much through the day. During a social gathering organized by his office he attempted to spark up conversation with Mary, but she was over tired after returning from an off-site meeting. Mary told Mike, "I don't really want to be here but I have to be so please don't talk to me right now." Mike felt fed up and began looking for a new job.
How many times have you been Sally or Mike? And how many times have you been a frustrated William or tired Mary? Whether you immediately admit it or not, there is no way you have always been the victim of passive-aggressive office behavior. And, sadly, there is not pill for this ailment which plagues conference rooms and cubicles everywhere.
Your choices to deal with passive-aggressiveness are: live it, copy it, change it. Only one of these choices will make you a warrior, and perhaps even a savior, at your office.
  • Live it - You might complain, you might cry, you might even scream into your pillow when you get home after work... but then what? If you don't do anything about the behavior another person has towards you, you're only bottling up frustration and anger. Raise the issue up to your supervisor and be willing to be part of a solution. While the problem won't be resolved immediately, if you don't deal with it you will have a break down, give zero cares (to put it politely) about your job, or reciprocate. Which leads me to...
  • Copy it- When you don't know what to do about a passive-aggressive person and you put up with their behavior over, and over, and over, and over again, that point will come when you think, "enough is enough." Perhaps you spoke to your manager about the attitude and nothing changed, or perhaps you are the manager and your attempt to mediate between team members did not work. Since nothing is different you will start rolling punches. When you hear a mean comment disguised as a compliment you will answer back with even worse fake-flattery. This will only create a downward spiral of people quitting, people getting fired, people having full-on verbal or physical altercations. Which leads me to...
  • Change it- You don't want to lose your job and you don't want a black eye, right? You need to ride the wave and become part of the solution.
When someone asks you to help in a project, write down the details! What is expected of you? What is everyone else doing? What can you do? Once all the i's are dotted, be clear with those asking for your assistance on what you can or cannot offer and politely clarify those expectations face-to-face to avoid miscommunication.
When you're stressed and dealing with an unexpected problem, talk to your team! Explain to those around you that you're stressed and that you need space to manage the issue to avoid snapping at them, or express what kind of help you need to find a solution together.
When you're pooped, mentally fried, overall disengaged with everything around you, take yourself out of the equation entirely! Ask to be left alone because you feel "off," or ask to leave early or avoid interactions with people you know will put you over the edge to avoid offending others with your seeming carelessness.
Only YOU know YOU.
When you feel a passive-aggressive air coming on, breathe and keep yourself from releasing your anger onto others. Ask yourself if you're truly that big of a deal to act like a King or Queen to your co-workers and have some humility to understand that you're not. Managing your own emotions is a powerful skill that can help you become a better negotiator, manager, customer service professional and even parent. Being emotional does not mean being easily overpowered by those emotions; and in professional settings, hurt feelings are often linked to hurt egos- not broken hearts.
It would be easy to say, "forget about everyone and find yourself a new job," but these attitude-farts are part of being human. You will encounter passive-aggressiveness at any office. Changing jobs is always an option, just give yourself the chance to improve on your passive-aggressive management skills to bring them with you onto your next work opportunity.
Alternatively, don't let your spirits be brought down either. You can keep yourself in check to avoid being passive-aggressive and you can help others become aware of their own attitudes. If you are having a tough time dealing with a person who is being combative, serenely express to them that their operating mode can and should change because it's not productive.
Write down a problem and agree on a written-down solution with the passive-aggressive culprit. Office accountability can improve with physical check-lists or detailed notes that are being reviewed in person with all parties involved, and serve as a reminder of an agreement that if broken will have a direct person at-fault, not everybody pointing fingers. Besides being clear in writing also talk, talk, talk. Offer constructive critique, suggest solutions, explain your problems, ask questions. When you start talking you may become surprised at how much those around you want to talk as well. The simple activity of speaking can increase trust, understand processes and even build respect. Overall, once you attempt to give your best you will have peace of mind and a light heart to deal with others who still, regardless of any positivity that comes their way, choose to be unhappy.
You can only change your life not the life of others, after all.
It is much easier to jump on the Debby Downer bandwagon that to willingly put yourself out there and attempt to change a system. However, the personal development achieved is dramatically different on the easy ride than the leadership marathon. Taking responsibility for changing conditions is what warriors do. Robbie Abed wrote a funny take on how to manage this change, read his thoughts.
Passive-aggressiveness can be defeated, if you change you perspective and become a positive influence on others.
Living with and for happiness is a choice, not a given.
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