8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness offers a comprehensive overview of passive-aggression, including how it develops, how you can fix it, and how you can deal with passive-aggressive people.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Real-Life Applications
- Passive-aggressiveness stems from childhood
- Holding back anger is one of the main traits of passive-aggressiveness
- Passive-aggressives need an enabler in a long-lasting relationship
- You overcome passive-aggressiveness it with assertive communication
8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness has lots of great examples, so I recommend you get the full book to get the most out of it.
What Is Passive-Aggressiveness
Passive-aggressiveness is one of the major four styles of communication.
Andrea Brandt says that passive-aggressiveness arises from the taboo our society places on anger.
Passive-aggressive people don’t set and don’t know how to set personal boundaries.
And when people overstep those boundaries, they swallow their anger. But Anger doesn’t go away, it’s an energy that needs to be expressed.
So the passive aggressive often projects their anger onto other people.
Others might not be angry at all, but the passive-aggressive actually provokes anger in the other person to then justify their feelings.
Passive-Aggression is a feeling of powerlessness
Andrea Brandt says that passive aggression is born out of a feeling of powerlessness.
It’s no coincidence the roots are often to be found in our childhood.
If one of the parents is dominant and the other subservient children are likely to develop some passive aggressiveness personality traits. From the subservient parent children learn powerful people shouldn’t be approached directly.
Are you passive-aggressive? Go through this checklist
Andrea Brandt gives us a handy checklist to see if we’re being passive aggressive:
- Withhold praise, attention or positive feedback when someone deserves or ask for it?
- Fail to follow through
- Stall when an important issue needs to be resolved
- Withhold intimacy as a way of punishment
- Engage in sabotaging behavior
- Respond with minimal words during important discussion (ex. “aha, hmm, I don’t know, fine”)
- Respond in sarcastic ways about life, yourself or others
- Feel frustrated, disappointed or irritable a lot sometimes without reaching anger
- Look at situations negatively even when they are going well
- Make small negative comments underlying someone else’s self esteem
- Feel depressed frequently
- Never say no or always say yes
If you said a lot of yeses here it means that showing anger is a problem for you.
The characteristics of weak boundaries
Andrea Brandt also gives us a list of what weak boundaries look like:
- Not protecting personal space;
- Revealing too much;
- Geting caught up in other people’s troubles;
- Neglect own needs for others;
- Tolerate abuse;
- Confuse sex and love (and give in to pressure for sex)
- Easily persuaded by one religious creed or another;
Example: Passive-Aggression in real life
Luisa and Katka work together at a book store.
Luisa asks for an important favor to be taken care of ASAP.
Katka does her own things though as the task takes some time and then goes to lunch.
When she comes back Katka is doing the task herself and gets angry
-“I don’t understand why you say you can help if you really can’t”
-I didn’t know it was that urgent
-I told you it was ASAP
-I had some other stuff to finish. I can do it now if it’s important, I don’t see why you’re so angry
Katka said sure without asking a time frame and without considering her own agenda.
She just said yes almost always to avoid saying no.
Then she delayed doing it and said it didn’t know it was that urgent when she actually knew it was ASAP and could have easily figured out how important it was.
And she could have easily figured out whether or not she could have managed and easily said no.
The 3 Types of Communicators
Andrea Brandt says there are three different communicator types:
Aggressive communicators are loud and domineering, winning is everything.
Passive communicators say little, don’t stand up for their rights and ignore attacks. If they have an outburst they are immediately ashamed. They say sorry. Their body language is tentative.
Passive-aggressive on the surface seems similar to passive, but the anger comes out in criticism and sarcasm.
They send a double message: their face is smiling but the words sound mean.
How to communicate assertively
Andrea Brandt says that when we treat each other with empathy we see the situation from the other’s point of view.
But this is different than assuming you know what they’re thinking or feeling.
An essential part of assertiveness is seeing other as individuals and we reflect this understanding with “I” statements without accusations.
Wrong: “you really hurt my feelings when you criticized my cooking in front of everyone”
Correct: “I felt embarrassed and angry to hear you didn’t like the dinner I made for our friends. I want to know what you think, but I’d rather hear it privately”
Wrong: You should really go to the dentist for your teeth, they’re really yellow
Correct: I was reading about… (news about whitening) … have you heard about it?
Passive-aggressive communication assumes all discussion will lead to a quarrel, these examples show how criticism can be conveyed in non-threatening ways.
To read more examples check:
A passive aggressive needs an enabler
Andrea Brandt says that a long-lasting relationship with a passive aggressive needs an enabler.
The enabler creates an environment where passive aggressiveness can survive.
The enabler is usually the follower in the relationship.
They keep quiet when they should speak up, excuse outrageous behavior and bail the other out. They say things like “he’s trying” or “if I say something he’ll get mad”.
Andrea Brandt says that if you’re the enabler and want to fix your relationship you’ll have to become the leading figure.
Andrea Brandt says it’s incredibly helpful to confirm people’s feelings.
She provides a few dialogue example, and I propose a similar one based on hers:
-“the president is hosting a retreat and I haven’t been invited yet
-“so they’re having a retreat and you want to go but you haven’t been invited yet, that’s the issue?
-“But I feel there’s something more. Is it so important for you?
-“blab la bla”
-“OK, so you’re feeling cut out and you’re worried it might impact your career” (confirm understanding)
-“I would feel the same in that situation, you are part of the team and you deserve respect and inclusion” (validation)
-“thanks, I think so too and I don’t know why I’m being left out”
-“I had the same experience … bla bla bla” (express empathy, let your partner know you had the same feelings)
+ bonus point if you can draw a positive message from your similar experience, or at least a new understanding and self-development
This dialogue is golden.
When people say what they’re feeling way too many people would reply “oh come on, what do you care about that stupid retreat”, which is wrong because that’s YOUR point of view.
Take responsibility for changing!
And take responsibility for changing your relationship if your partner is passive aggressive.
“8 keys to eliminating passive aggressiveness” is wonderful and I learned hugely with it.
I personally found my own passive-aggressive tendencies and Brandt helped me address it.
I believe many of us have at least some hints of passive aggressiveness. Sure, there are people who have none of it, the people who say no very easily and very quickly, but it’s a minority.
Even if you’re not passive-aggressive yourself, “8 keys to eliminating passive aggressiveness” will help you understand passive aggressive people.
I highly recommend the book if you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive personality or if you are passive aggressive yourself.
But if you are into communication and human relationships, I would say this is a must-read no matter where you stand on the assertiveness scale.