When our existing assumptions and ways of thinking break down, it’s the rebels and the renegades, those who dare to think differently, who need to reboot the system.
You’re having a conversation at a party. It sounds normal enough, but something doesn’t feel right, although you can’t quite put your finger on what. You recognize that your friend is telling you something without telling you something — “I normally don’t like the way you dress, but that dress looks great on you!” she says.
Ouch. It hits you: She’s being passive aggressive.
Passive-aggressive behavior is a way of expressing anger in a seemingly non-hostile way — a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings. It’s a behavior that encompasses more than just eye rolls and faux compliments; it involves a range of actions designed to get back at another person without him or her recognizing the underlying anger.
What Makes People Passive Aggressive?
Passive-aggressive behavior, while expressed in many different ways (sarcasm, the silent treatment, running late, to name a few), has the same roots: There is an underlying fear and avoidance of direct conflict, yet a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness.
There can be a number of reasons for the cause of the behavior. One is from a fear of anger. Most of us learn when growing up that it is bad to express anger inappropriately. The passive aggressive person has learned that expressing anger in any way is bad and that he or she is bad for feeling anger.
Another reason is based on upbringing. Children who are raised by overly controlling parents, in an environment where self-expression is not permitted, are forced to learn other ways to express feelings of anger and hostility. Since they are dependent upon their parents, they risk punishment if they don’t do as their parents say. Therefore, they lash out at their parents covertly and maintain that behavior into adulthood.
There are many other biological and environmental factors that can contribute to the development of passive aggressive behavior. A few of these include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug withdrawal
How to Stop Your Passive Aggressive Behavior
Whether you find yourself in a relationship with someone who displays their anger in a passive-aggressive manner, or you recognize such behavior patterns within yourself, consider eliminating this communication style in order to relate to others in a healthier, more effective way..
Learn to recognize the behavior, check your perceptions, confront it, and create a safe space to communicate in more assertive ways.
1. Recognize your behavior
The best way to nip passive aggressive behavior in the bud is to become aware of when you’re reacting in a passive aggressive way.
2. Understand why your behavior should be changed
It’s important to realize that passive-aggression is not less aggressive simply because it’s passive. Essentially, passive-aggression is an indirect form of aggression — not necessarily a milder form of aggression.
3. Give yourself time
Recognizing your own behaviors and understanding them is a good first step toward change, but altering your patterns and reactions can take some time.
4. Realize it’s OK to be angry
You can still be a positive person and feel emotions we typically label as negative. And you can be a loving friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, mother, father, son, or daughter while feeling anger in response to something the other person has done.
5. Be assertive, not aggressive
State facts clearly and be clear about your opinions. Let the person know the impact of her behavior in clear statements.
6. Be open to confrontation
While directing expressing your needs can lead to potential confrontation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Keep in mind that confrontation can be direct and respectful — even if positivity isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of it.
Believe in Yourself
Avoiding the slide into passive aggressiveness requires closing the gap between anger and silence — either by dissipating anger or breaking the silence. The more you believe that you have the right to express your wants and needs, the less likely you are to fear being swayed by others’ opinions or rejected for voicing what you want. And the less you fear those things, the more direct you’re likely to be.
It’s a long, often difficult journey, but as a first step, practice listening to what you want and giving it to yourself. If you begin to treat your desires as important and valid and experience how good that feels, you’ll start to believe that you deserve similar treatment from other people.
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Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likeable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few — the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likeable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ).
In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 descriptions of people based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated descriptors had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top descriptors were sincerity, transparency, and capable of understanding (another person).
These adjectives, and others like them, describe people who are skilled in the social side of emotional intelligence. TalentSmartresearch data from more than a million people shows that people who possess these skills aren’t just highly likeable; they outperform those who don’t by a large margin.
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Likeability is so critical to your success at work that it can completely alter your performance. A University of Massachusetts study found that managers were willing to accept an auditor’s argument with no supporting evidence if he or she was likeable, and Jack Zenger found that just 1 in 2,000 unlikeable leaders were considered effective by their colleagues.
Being likeable is as much about avoiding behaviors that decrease your likeability as it is about magnifying those that increase it. To help you with this, I did some digging to uncover the key behaviors that hold people back when it comes to likeability. Make certain these behaviors don’t catch you by surprise.
It’s great to know important and interesting people, but using every conversation as an opportunity to name-drop is pretentious and silly. Just like humble-bragging, people see right through it. Instead of making you look interesting, it makes people feel as though you’re insecure and overly concerned with having them like you. It also cheapens what you have to offer. When you connect everything you know with whoyou know (instead of what you know or what you think), conversations lose their color.
People are averse to those who are desperate for attention. Simply being friendly and considerate is all you need to win people over. When you speak in a friendly, confident, and concise manner, people are much more attentive and persuadable than if you try to show them that you’re important. People catch on to your attitude quickly and are more attracted to the right attitude than who you know.
My company provides 360° feedback assessments, and we come across far too many instances of people throwing things, screaming, making people cry, and other telltale signs of an emotional hijacking. An emotional hijacking demonstrates low emotional intelligence. As soon as you show that level of instability, people will question whether or not you’re trustworthy and capable of keeping it together when it counts.
Exploding at anyone, regardless of how much they might “deserve it,” turns a huge amount of negative attention your way. You’ll be labeled as unstable, unapproachable, and intimidating. Controlling your emotions keeps you in the driver’s seat. When you’re able to control your emotions around someone who wrongs you, they end up looking bad instead of you.
We all know those people who like to brag about themselves behind the mask of self-deprecation. For example, the gal who makes fun of herself for being a nerd when she really wants to draw attention to the fact that she’s smart or the guy who makes fun of himself for having a strict diet when he really wants you to know how healthy and fit he is. While many people think that self-deprecation masks their bragging, everyone sees right through it. This makes the bragging all the more frustrating, because it isn’t just bragging; it’s also an attempt to deceive.
Whipping out your phone
Nothing turns someone off to you like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When you commit to a conversation, focus all of your energy on the conversation. You’ll find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself in them.
Having a closed mind
If you want to be likeable, you must be open-minded, which makes you approachable and interesting to others. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is unwilling to listen. Having an open mind is crucial in the workplace, where approachability means access to new ideas and help. To eliminate preconceived notions and judgment, you need to see the world through other people’s eyes. This doesn’t require that you believe what they believe or condone their behavior; it simply means that you quit passing judgment long enough to truly understand what makes them tick.
Not asking enough questions
The biggest mistake people make in conversation is being so focused on what they’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost. A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening, and something as simple as a clarification question shows that not only are you listening but that you also care about what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.
Being too serious
People gravitate toward those who are passionate. That said, it’s easy for passionate people to come across as too serious or uninterested, because they tend to get absorbed in their work. Likeable people balance their passion for their work with their ability to have fun. At work they are serious, yet friendly. They still get things done because they are socially effective in short amounts of time and they capitalize on valuable social moments. They focus on having meaningful interactions with their coworkers, remembering what people said to them yesterday or last week, which shows people that they are just as important to them as their work is.
People make themselves look terrible when they get carried away with gossiping. Wallowing in talk of other people’s misdeeds or misfortunes may end up hurting their feelings if the gossip ever finds its way to them, but gossiping is guaranteed to make you look negative and spiteful every time.
Sharing too much, too early
While getting to know people requires a healthy amount of sharing, sharing too much about yourself right off the bat comes across wrong. Be careful to avoid sharing personal problems and confessions too quickly. Likeable people let the other person guide them as to when it’s the right time for them to open up. Over-sharing comes across as self-obsessed and insensitive to the balance of the conversation. Think of it this way: if you’re getting into the nitty gritty of your life without learning about the other person first, you’re sending the message that you see them as nothing more than a sounding board for your problems.
Sharing too much on social media
Studies have shown that people who over-share on social media do so because they crave acceptance, but the Pew Research Center has revealed that this over-sharing works against them by making people dislike them. Sharing on social media can be an important mode of expression, but it needs to be done thoughtfully and with some self-control. Letting everyone know what you ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with how many times you walked your dog today will do much more harm than good when it comes to likeability.
Bringing it all together
When you build your awareness of how your actions are received by other people, you pave the way to becoming more likeable.