4 ways to deal with passive-aggressive behavior (video transcript)

Here are the right words to say to deal with passive aggressive behavior.

First, set the tone. At the start of a meeting, say, “I’m concerned we aren’t using our meetings effectively to air our opinions,” or, “How do we make sure to add value in the meeting, not after it?” When a contentious issue comes up, just call it. This is a sensitive discussion and it’s one we need to have out in the open. I would ask everyone to weigh in on this, or how are we gonna approach this discussion productively? That’ll set the tone.

Next, you have to make room for dissent. Before making a decision, ask, “Are we ready to make this decision?” Or, “What could we consider that would improve the quality of the decision we’re about to make? What might reopen this decision if we make it now?” When someone introduces a differing point of view, you need to spend some time on it. You could say something like, “That’s a really different way of looking at this issue. What can we gain from that perspective?” Or, “If we assume Mary’s point is true, what would be the implication?”

Next, you need to call out passive aggressive behavior when you see it. When body language is negative, ask, “I’m noticing that you’re moving away from the table. How are you reacting to this discussion?” Or, “I just saw three people roll their eyes. Tell me what’s up.” When humor’s use to shut things down, you need to call that. “We’ve enjoyed a laugh, now let’s discuss what Bob was really trying to tell us,” or, “I get the sense we’re using humor to avoid a serious discussion. What’s making this uncomfortable for us?”

And finally, as a team leader, you need to shut down back channels when people try and open them up. When a team member comes to complain outside a meeting, you need to redirect them. “I’m concerned that I didn’t hear your point of view in the meeting. What are you hoping to accomplish by raising it now?” Or, “Tell me about your decision not to raise this while we were in the team meeting.” When someone tries to reopen a decision, say something like, “What new information do we have that would lead us to decide differently?” or, “This decision’s already been made. Do you believe we need to take it back to the team?”

There are so many simple things to say to redirect passive aggressive behavior. The general principle is to get legitimate conflict happening around the table and to stop unproductive conflict from finding a home. Now, go have some good old fashioned, direct, open, productive conflict.

Those are the right words to say to reduce passive aggressive behavior.

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