Passive-aggressive behavior

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Passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a pattern of passive hostility and an avoidance of direct communication.[1] Inaction where some action is socially customary is a typical passive-aggressive strategy (showing up late for functions, staying silent when a response is expected). Such behavior is sometimes protested by associates, evoking exasperation or confusion. It may be an expression of difficulty in dealing with one's negative emotions.

It is an act if it is occasional and does not substantially interfere with social or occupational function, or relationships; it is a behavior if it is used persistently.



In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of non-active resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected by others. Most frequently it occurs in the workplace, where resistance is exhibited by indirect behaviors as procrastination, forgetfulness, and purposeful inefficiency, especially in reaction to demands by authority figures, but it can also occur in interpersonal contexts.[2]

Another source characterizes passive-aggressive behavior as: "a personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and characterized by passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to complying with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. Behaviors: learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible".[3] Other examples of passive-aggressive behavior might include avoiding direct or clear communication, evading problems, fear of intimacy or competition, making excuses, blaming others, obstructionism, playing the victim, feigning compliance with requests, sarcasm, backhanded compliments, and hiding anger.[4][5]

Conflict theory[edit]

In conflict theory, passive-aggressive behavior can resemble a behavior better described as catty, as it consists of deliberate, active, but carefully veiled hostile acts which are distinctively different in character from the non-assertive style of passive resistance.[6]


Passive-aggressive behavior from workers and managers is damaging to team unity and productivity. In the ad for Warner's[who?] online ebook, it says: "The worst case of passive-aggressive behavior involves destructive attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, 'forgetting' to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency."[7] If this behavior is ignored it could result in decreased office efficiency and frustration among workers.[8] If managers are passive-aggressive in their behavior, it can end up stifling team creativity. De Angelis says, "It would actually make perfect sense that those promoted to leadership positions might often be those who on the surface appear to be agreeable, diplomatic and supportive, yet who are actually dishonest, backstabbing saboteurs behind the scenes."[9]


Passive-aggressive behavior was first defined clinically by Colonel William Menninger during World War II in the context of men's reaction to military compliance. Menninger described soldiers who were not openly defiant but expressed their civil disobedience (what he called "aggressiveness") "by passive measures, such as pouting, stubbornness, procrastination, inefficiency, and passive obstructionism" due to what Menninger saw as an "immaturity" and a reaction to "routine military stress".[10]

According to some psychoanalytic views, noncompliance is not indicative of true passive-aggressive behavior, which may instead be defined as the manifestation of emotions that have been repressed based on a self-imposed need for acceptance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "7 Signs You're Dealing With A Passive-Aggressive Person | Definition of Passive–aggressive". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2017-09-28.
  2. ^ American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV. Washington, DC: American Psychiatic Association. pp. 733–734. ISBN 978-0890420621.
  3. ^ "Passive–aggressive personality disorder-diagnostic criteria".
  4. ^ "What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?".[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "10 Things Passive–aggressive People Say".
  6. ^ Simon, George (2010), In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, Parkhurst
  7. ^ "Passive Aggressive Workplace". Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  8. ^ Harms, Kimberly A. (May–June 2012), Passive Aggressive Behaviour in the Dental Office (3 ed.).
  9. ^ De Angelis, Paula (2009), Blindsided: Recognizing and Dealing with Passive–aggressive Leadership in the Workplace, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, p. 3, ISBN 978-1442159204.
  10. ^ Lane, C (1 February 2009), "The Surprising History of Passive–aggressive Personality Disorder" (PDF), Theory & Psychology, 19 (1): 55–70, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1177/0959354308101419


External links[edit]