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RedDeerGuy1's avatar

What does it mean to be passive-aggressive?

Asked by RedDeerGuy1 (17713points) October 14th, 2016

I’ve heard about it before , but I really don’t understand what it is.

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45 Answers

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It is indirect aggression. Aggression with a thin veil of politeness in order to provide the aggressor plausible deniability. It is the worst kind of aggression because it so often goes unpunished in the office and other venues people find themselves trapped in daily. I hate it with a passion, and now that I’m retired and am beholden to nobody, I confront it, when directed at me, with full-frontal aggression whether they are male or female. I very threateningly let that fucker know that I won’t tolerate that. And they wilt immediately, because passive aggressives are cowards by definition and spend their lives as bullies making everyone else’s life a living hell..

Dutchess_III's avatar

Perfect, @Espiritus_Corvus. It’s a chicken way to behave.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

An excellent example of Passive Aggression is the recently released Trump tape where Trump is walking through a bus with Billy Bush. Listen to how Trump speaks to Bush. There are numerous put downs cloaked in what on the surface looks and sounds like an older man sharing mutual experiences and opinions with a younger man. But Billy, a submissive who somehow found a way to make a living outside a BDSM dungeon, laps it up instead of being insulted. It is grotesque to watch.

The put downs continue in the presence of Zucker, a female. Then Billy even pimps for Trump and solicits for him a hug from Zucker, who is experiencing professional duress. The Trump part is passive aggressive. The Bush part is a groveling underling being submissive to the treatment. It’s a fucking sickening thing to watch. No amount of money, at any time in my life, would entice me to behave that way around another man.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. Billy giggled like a 12 year old every time Trump said something disgusting.

Unfortunately my husband often uses passive aggressive tactics. I think it’s because he was not allowed to talk to his father directly when there were issues, or to disagree or anything. His dad was “My way or the highway.”

dappled_leaves's avatar

Passive aggression is when you convey a negative message to someone in a very indirect manner. It is, as @Espiritus_Corvus and @Dutchess_III said, a cowardly choice, and it earns no one’s respect.

Here is a classic example:

You know a specific person in your workplace ate a yoghurt that you left in the office refrigerator, but instead of going to that person and asking him or her not to eat your yoghurt again, you leave a big note in the kitchen saying, “COULD PEOPLE NOT EAT OTHER PEOPLE’S FOOD,” or whatever. So, instead of targeting the person you know is to blame (which might make you feel uncomfortable), everyone in the office is made to feel uncomfortable, and the person who ate your yoghurt can pretend he or she had nothing to do with it. And you still don’t have any yoghurt.

If you have the choice between doing something passive-aggressive and choosing to have a more direct interaction, choose directness. No one likes people who are passive-aggressive.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Another example, my husband will ask where I want to go eat. If I give the “wrong” answer he’ll convey his displeasure subtly, with sighs and grimaces. He already has in mind where he wants to eat. But, like @Espiritus_Corvus, he feels he can cover him self by pointing out that he’d asked me, and wasn’t that nice of him.
(BTW, we’ve been working through that, and he is much, much better than he used to be. I finally started telling him straight up that he was being passive aggressive and ridiculous.)

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^ I think you meant to write ”... like Espiritus_Corvus said…”

I spent three months in a Venezuelan prison. We lived in small concrete cubicles containing ten men each open to a large gymnasium floor used as the common area. There were 14 cubes totaling about 150 guys packed on top of each other in a space about the size of an average high school basketball gym. Every fucking morning a different new shithead would wake everyone up screaming that someone stole his shit.

“Who the fuck stole my shit! If I catch any of you motherfuckers near my shit, I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill every one of you.” And on and on and on.

In this way, this guy verbally threatened the entire population and this rarely was ignored for long. Later that same day he would be dogpiled and put in the infirmary or worse. That’s how they deal with passive aggression in an all male world.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, PA behavior includes snipey little sarcastic and guilt trippy comments/ remarks, non-verbal sighing and groaning, remarks made indirectly, mumbling under ones breath and my favorite, the silent treatment. Someone’s pissed off or upset but refuses to acknowledge why and expects you to guess and be a mind reader.
Oh man, I am 10,000% with @Espiritus_Corvus I loathe PA behavior and refuse to respond it. If I could kill someone with my bare hands it would be a passive aggressive type.

No, I won’t sneak up on you, you will see me coming, with the axe in my hand. lol
My old room mate was really PA, I remember her shouting across the house one day ” Oooh my flowers are dead, SOMEBODY forgot to put fresh water in the vase!” Um…would that be me you’re speaking of? Fucking hell, nothing worse, nothing. haha

flo's avatar

But “COULD PEOPLE NOT EAT OTHER PEOPLE’S FOOD,” sign would not make the not guilty people bad because the sign is not about them, and the guiltly party would get the message.

Sneki95's avatar

^ There was still no need to write that. You could just come up to the yoghurt stealer and tell them not to do it, not letting everyone know your sacred meal has been stolen and creating confusion.

flo's avatar

What if the writer doesn’t know the stealer?

And what confusion? There would be no confusion. The person who stole it wouldn’t be confused and the other ones who never stole anything would know it’s not directed at them and would go about their business without spending a fraction of a second on it.

flo's avatar

And also the person whose food was stolen may have much less (or no) interest in knowing who stole it than putting an end to the practice of stealing in general.

Sneki95's avatar

If the writer doesn’t know the stealer, he just asks “What happened to my yoghurt?”

What confusion? Well, if there is a group of, say 50 people, of course there will be confusion. Who’s the thief? Was it me? Bob? Jack? The janitor? Whose food is being stolen? Will my food be stolen? Does the writer accuse me of stealing? Bit I didn’t steal anything lately. Or what if I did? What i it was Bob writing this because I took half if his sandwich yesterday?

What if the yoghurt wasn’t stolen in the first place, but the writer go confused, or forgot he already ate it? He would be accusing people of a crime not commited.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@flo. If the transgression is important enough to the transgressed, then it is their responsibility to do their investigation and find out who the true culprit is and confront them—not accuse everyone in the whole damn place. This just pisses people off and makes the accuser look like a damned fool. You always lay the bodies in the doorway of the those responsible. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that?

Seek's avatar

Passive-Aggression is every sign on every copy machine in every office building in America.

And the microwave.
And the refrigerator.
And the laser printer.

flo's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus How many wrongly accused people are in jail? Why waste time investigating and maybe getting to the wrong place when all it takes is a sign?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Jesus Christ. You never act until you have proof.

Coloma's avatar

www.passiveaggressivenotes.com great examples and highly entertaining too. haha

dappled_leaves's avatar

@flo Let me eliminate the source of your concern. In the example I gave, the yoghurt owner does know the identity of the yoghurt eater. There is no need for an investigation or for anyone to languish in jail. I purposely specified that the culprit is known so that discussions of guilt were off the table. This is a clear case of passive-aggression, with no room for ambiguity.

si3tech's avatar

@RedDeerGuy1 One definition of Passive Aggressive is for someone to pee on your leg and tell you it’s raining.

Jeruba's avatar

Someone I worked with specialized in passive-aggressive behavior and bragged about it. She told a story about having been a houseguest of someone who, according to her, didn’t treat her hospitably enough. Her response was to run the shower long enough and hot enough to use up all the hot water and leave the hostess only cold water for her shower.

Response moderated (Flame-Bait)
JLeslie's avatar

It means you behave like a lot of people in my husband’s family. It’s awful. They use silent treatment when they are angry with you, they do little things that let you know they are pissed off, but won’t talk to you directly about it. They absolutely do not want to clear the air (his family, I don’t know about all PA people) and they seem to revel in feeling like they are better than the other person.

They often take pride in what they consider to be not acting out by not screaming or yelling or not being wildly out of control. If they are paired with a more aggressive personality it will drive that person to the brink.

They often expect other people to read their minds, or to read between the lines, or to just know what is expected or “right.” When the other person isn’t psychic, they are now officially on a lower rung than the person who is always right.

Some, not all, of them will brag about the punishment they employ to get back or teach the other person a lesson.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’m kind of sad that I missed the flame-baity post. Surely it was meant to be ironic?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Not responding when you ask a question. Procrastinating. Consistently late. ‘Forgetting’ all the time. Anything to simply annoy the hell out of people. It’s a control thing.

Coloma's avatar

@Dutchess_III Oh how could I forget “forgetting!” lol
My ex’s favorite PA trick, “I forgot.”

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Consistently late?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes. It forces people to wait on him. Control.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III I agree it can be disrespectful of the other person’s time, but sometimes whole cultures run late, everyone in the group runs late, and it’s just a given. I think the late thing depends on specific situations, but I guess I do agree it can be part of PA behavior. When my girlfriend Sue (name is changed) is late, I don’t feel she is being PA, but with some other people I think I could take it that way.

I tend to run late, but just by 5–10 minutes, and I’m not late with certain people and not for certain events. It’s not a control thing, it’s a habit thing, or I know the other person runs late thing. I used to always be on time, but I changed it once I was spending a lot of time around people who always ran late.

Dutchess_III's avatar

His family does it too. He made a commitment to be at my daughter’s at 2:00 today to do some plumbing work. We were running late (of course) so I said I was going to text her to tell her. He asked “Why?”
BECAUSE IT’S THE POLITE THING TO DO!!!!

JLeslie's avatar

^^I usually text or call if I’m running late to meet someone. I wouldn’t bother if I’m running 5 minutes late to meet Sue.

I also expect people to be ten minutes late to a party, to the extent that early to a party I feel is rude. I purposely would not show up on time for a party, and some other events.

Does he get angry when people are late to something he planned? If so the double standard is obnoxious. If not, then I don’t know if I consider his behavior PA, or just lack of discipline and lack of etiquette.

flo's avatar

@dappled_leaves Okay so the owner the of yoghurt saw the thief stealing it? So, you’re suggesting you expect the conversation to go:
Owner of yoghurt -“That’s my yoghurt you’re taking.”
Yoghurt taker -”Okay, sorry, here you go”
What are the odds of that?

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL! I thought of this question again today. Revisiting my husband, who is always late. About a year ago I made some plans to be somewhere at 1:00. It was very important to me that I not be late.
The day before I told him, “I am leaving at noon. If you are not ready to go, I will go without you.”
I reminded him of that the next morning.
The next day, by 11:50 he had still taken no steps to get ready.
I counted the minutes down and walked out the door at noon, without him. He was upset, but I had warned him. Twice.
He’s actually gotten better since then.

flo's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus “You never act until you have proof.” But there is no action taken.
The sign in the fridge etc. is not about the past, i.e it’s not saying: “I know each of you stole my food at some point in the past.” The sign is about the future, it’s a preventative measure, and it’s only targeting whoever has stolen in the past. Now each person thinks that way, there would be no need for anyone to investigate anything, waste work time. Would you like your colleague to be late for whatever you needed to be ready for a client or patient etc. just because they were investigating or some other unnecessary activity?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

My God, flo. I can’t believe you’re still on this yogurt thing. Just piss in the yoghurt, seal it back up nicely with glue and put it in the refrigerator. You will have the satisfaction of knowing the culprit ate your piss. PA tit-for-tat.

flo's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus No need for that whatsoever.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Of course there is. It beats insulting everyone you work with and causing bad blood and suspicion throughout the office. Don’t haphazardly shotgun, flo. Hit your target.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus That is exactly the kind of passive-aggressive behaviour that will get you kicked off the island!

@flo In the hypothetical scenario that I created, the yoghurt owner is omniscient (though, sadly, not omnipotent). He knows what he knows. I can’t help that.

flo's avatar

Okay you two I’m too late in catching up that you’re totally joking.
@Espiritus_Corvus you’re suggesting to commit what you’re calling a passive aggressive act eventhough you’re saying that’s a bad thing to do??? See you’re joking around.
Now imagine you had the same brand and size of yoghurt in there, and by mistake you ate the one with….

Seek's avatar

I usually solved such problems by eating things that didn’t need to be refrigerated.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Oh, fuck. I give up. You two have no sense of humor whatsoever.

flo's avatar

Here is a good thread (my OP inspired by this thread) re. similar-ish topic
http://www.fluther.com/196022/does-the-sign-watch-your-step-make-you-feel-like-youre/
Read all the answers.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Flo…OP stands for Original Poster.

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