How to recognise a passive aggressive colleague

by | Dec 9, 2015

Your passive aggressive colleague is more likely to be a woman

We all have had a passive aggressive colleague. How do you spot them?

Passive aggressive behaviour in the workplace creates a toxic environment. It is very difficult to pin-point and challenge. We all know how damaging a passive aggressive colleague can be, but very often they escape the attention of the boss. They are frequently long serving and somehow have managed to miraculously survive any changes and down sizing over the years in an organisation.

Very often we see parts of a pattern, but don't put the whole picture together. We just think something is off and feel frustrated. Frequently "work around" solutions are used to deal with them.

Research suggests that as women are discouraged from displaying anger openly, your passive aggressive colleague is more likely to be female.


How to recognise a passive aggressive colleague

How to recognise a passive aggressive colleague

What are the characteristics of a passive aggressive colleague?

They deliberately under perform

A passive aggressive colleague will deliberately delay, procrastinate or even completely under perform in the hope that the task will be taken from them. In worst case scenarios, they hope that their reputation will go before them and the job will not even be allocated to them in the first place.

They Manipulate

Manipulation is the modus operandi of the passive aggressive colleague. They will engineer people and events to their best advantage, getting others to act on their behalf.  They develop an air of righteous helplessness and are frequently the victims of happenstance and circumstance, which renders them incapable. They frequently cannot be located, with appointments and tasks that cannot be tracked or "run late."

They Avoid Confrontation

A passive aggressive colleague hates confrontation and will avoid it at all times. They will not say they don't want to do something or contradict. They will accept the request or project, go with the flow and simply fail to deliver. See 1 above. They may agree to something but their non verbal communication sends another message. Read: Assertive communication for a healthy workplace


They frequently suffer from hard to pinpoint maladies or ailments: headaches, backache, stress, depression,  IBS, allergies and other illnesses, that they use as excuses to avoid any activity. Their time keeping is frequently erratic. The results culture suits them perfectly, where they don't have to account for their time. Much of their energy then goes into covering up why they are not producing any results at all. When their results are poor they will find an excuse.

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Bystanders or mobbers

A passive aggressive colleague will very often be on the fringes of mobbing or bullying. They may not take part directly, but they will participate obliquely, contributing to fuelling gossip and rumours or doing nothing to intervene. They quite often have sources for updates on company information and can cause concern by making innuendos about future developments.  Read: Mobbing in the workplace

They are not accountable

Because they are unable to confront or say no, they are not accountable. They will weasel their way out of any responsibility. They frequently have the ear of the boss and over the years have managed to make themselves a comfortable sinecure.

A passive aggressive colleague can do significant damage to team morale. Contact us if you or your team need support

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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