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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

10 Ways to Identify Passive Aggressive Behavior

From the moment she walked into work Tess was immediately annoyed with the presence of her manager and she couldn’t understand why. Normally she got along with a wide range of personalities, had no issue with authority, and considered herself generally well-liked by most. But for some reason, every time she saw her manager she wanted to run in the opposite direction.

Their conversations were strained and barely polite. Tess would begin by talking about one thing and her manager would be dismissive and change the subject. The environment her manager created was biased and unproductive. While Tess was held to a high standard, her manager did not model the same behavior. Then her manager would micromanage things Tess was already recognized as an expert on by asking her to do things more inefficiently. When Tess’s performance suffered as a result of doing things in her manager’s way, she was held accountable instead of her manager.

So, Tess avoided her manager like the plague.

Tess had previously tried to confront her manager, but it has always ended in a ridiculous long conversation with no real conclusion. Frustrated, Tess began to write down the characteristics that drove her crazy and then looked them up on the internet. What she found was a Passive-Aggressive Personality Trait, which is part of the family of Undefined Personality Disorders. Here is her list, a description of what this trait really looks like.

  1. Lots of excuses. Whenever Tess would ask her manager about the completion of a task that was assigned to her manager, there was nothing but excuses as to why it was incomplete. Tess struggled to find even one assignment that was fully and properly completed. Most projects were left half done or not done at all, and her manager never seemed willing to take the appropriate responsibility for it.
  2. Overreacting/Underreacting. Tess’s manager would overreact when Tess made an error but whenever they made the same mistake, they seemed to under-react. There was no consistency in performance or standards. Even when this was brought to her manager’s attention, they would simply shift the blame to their own supervisor.
  3. Conveniently forgets. During a major project, Tess’s manager would conveniently forget to communicate with key participants, including Tess. Instead, her manager would make decisions that changed the direction of Tess’s work and not tell Tess for days about the shift. Even when a simple email would do, her manager would “forget” to send it.
  4. Resists change. Things were her manager’s way or the highway. Even when her manager was acting unnecessarily inefficient, they resisted any change that they did not initiate. And even in the event of a change, the updated policy would apply to Tess only, and not her manager. All suggestions for improving communication, participation, and effectiveness were resisted by her manager or completely shut them down.
  5. Avoids conflict. Probably the most confusing aspect of her manager’s behavior was the avoidance of all conflict. Yet even with this active avoidance, her manager would intentionally stir up conflict between Tess and her co-workers. From an upper-management point of view, it looked as if Tess’s manger handled conflict, but in reality, they personally avoided it while instigating it in others to appear as if they were capable of resolving issues.
  6. Apologizes without change. Most times, Tess’s manager was quick to apologize for any misunderstanding but would never take the necessary steps to change behavior or prevent the same mistake in the future. It almost seemed like her manager would apologize just to avoid discussing the issue so they could go back to doing things the way they wanted.
  7. Harbors anger. Tess was a naturally sensitive person so she was able to pick up on her manager’s anger, frustration, and hostility easily. When Tess confronted her manager about the emotions she perceived, her manager was dismissive and blamed Tess instead.
  8. Complains a lot. For Tess, the most frustrating aspect of her manager was the constant complaining or whining about how poorly things at work functioned. Even when there were valid suggestions, her manager would not take action and instead blamed others. Her manager seemed to love to complain, not change.
  9. No accountability. Since part of being a manager is to accept responsibility for leading a team, it was confusing for Tess to watch her manager not accept any responsibility. Any attempt to identify an area of accountability was met with hostility and anger. It seemed as if her manager was ineffective on purpose to avoid being held accountable.
  10. Agrees but doesn’t act. During team meetings, Tess’s manager would agree to complete a task but then would not follow through. When confronted, they would make excuses, sometimes lie, and blame others for the task going unfinished. This left the employees constantly unsure of what would and would not get done. Eventually, they all learned not to ask their manager for anything.

Passive-aggressive behavior is very annoying in the workplace for those who make an effort to complete tasks and complete them well. For Tess, once she was able to identify the behavior and accept that it was not going to change, she sought out another position at work. Tess determined that her enjoyment and ability to thrive in her work environment were more important than what job she was doing, and because of this she was now able to effectively function and leave her frustration behind her. By understanding the ten qualities of someone with passive-aggressive behavior as listed above, making a decision that is best for you in your own situation the same way Tess did becomes less overwhelming and will help to relieve some of the tension you may be feeling, too.

10 Ways to Identify Passive Aggressive Behavior

Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Christine Hammond is a leading mental health influencer, author, and guest speaker. As an author of the award-winning “The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook,” and more than 500 articles, Christine has more than one million people downloading her podcast “Understanding Today’s Narcissist,” and more than 400,000 views on YouTube. Her practice specializes in treating families of abuse, and trauma, with personality disorders involved which are based on her own personal experience. Her new book, Abuse Exposed: Identifying Family Secrets that Breed Dysfunction will be published in 2020. Christine is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Qualified Supervisor by the State of Florida, a National Certified Counselor, Certified Family Trauma Professional, with extensive training in crisis intervention and peaceful resolution. Based in Orlando, you may connect with Christine at Grow with Christine (


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2020). 10 Ways to Identify Passive Aggressive Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from