We spend a third of our lives sleeping, a third of our lives working and the last third is left for doing everything else!
This life ratio means that we spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with anyone else in our lives.
If you’ve been dreading the office over the past few weeks (or months), you’re most likely facing a passive aggressive colleague. These “I’m-wearing-a-mask-and-I-bet-you-don’t-see-me” people would never make it into your inner circle of besties. (If only we could unfriend difficult people in real life).
I once had to deal with a colleague who made my daily tasks feel like I was handing on the edge of Mount Everest with my fingertips – and life as I knew it could end at any moment. (Think I’m being too dramatic? You didn’t have to work with her. )
She wasn’t in my department but was an integral part of my work process. If she didn’t approve a document, it could jeopardise potential new funding. Unfortunately, she loved to wage email wars – but would never answer her phone when I tried to resolve an issue. This statement marks the essence of her passive aggressive writing flair: “Do you want me to come and teach you how to use Word?”
And yet, when we would have face to face meetings, she was a bucket of smiles and niceties and platitudes. It just didn’t make sense! I hate masks. I hate fakeness. So it was really challenging for me to have to endure the passive aggressive treatment day in and day out. Eventually it wore me down and I began to think about other possibilities within the organisation because nothing I was doing was improving the situation.
Some people are just mean. There is no point trying to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing (maybe her husband controls her, so she tries to control others when she is at work.) Women are good at trying to play emotional detective. Stop doing that. You’re not their counsellor.
And you can learn how to stop being their victim too. Passive aggressive people are workplace bullies. They love getting away with their bad behaviour. It makes them feel invincible.
Truth be told, we’re all guilty of defaulting to passive aggression at times. It’s an easy way out to let out the steam of a simmering anger. You don’t leave your emotions on the couch when you’re packing your lunchbox in the mornings.
The temptation when dealing with a passive aggressor is to respond in the same way. They want you to fall into their storm-in-a-teacup trap and engage in their chaos. You will have to learn to be the mature person and not engage in their dance of co-dependency (we will explore this further in future blogs).
Eventually, after many rants to my husband – and anyone else who would listen – I decided to accept my fate. I had to deal with her. But I could deal with her on my terms.
Every time she tried to get me sucked into the minutiae and send a two page email over some issue she’d conjured up, I would look at what the real problem was and address the facts in a two line response.
I was learning how to become impervious to the emotional storms of other people. I was also learning to not take it personally. I’d been warned about her when I’d started, so I was not the first person to experience the full glory of her wonderful personality (see what I did there? Yeah, passive aggression is not pretty).
After I made peace with the things I couldn’t change, my work life got easier. I still dreaded sending her emails or working on a new document but I keep practicing good boundaries and found that I had more energy to focus on other tasks (what joy!)
The Takeaway Tip
In the workplace (any workplace), there will be some things you can control and other things that you can’t. You will waste your time, energy and life fretting about the things you can’t fix. You can’t fix people. Ever.
One day, you will outgrow your role and move onto new opportunities. Most likely the passive aggressor will stick around on home turf, because they can’t risk taking on new environments where they might have less control. And when you do enter a new work environment, you will have developed the muscle to take on new bullies – wherever you may find them.