How to Deal With Passive-Aggressive Coworkers

It might seem that passive-aggressive behavior is indicative of a dual personality, but it's not. Passive-aggression is an intentionally deceitful way to cut down someone without just coming right out and expressing your dislike for or anger with that person, who, in this case, is a co-worker. Passive-aggressive co-workers who engage in disingenuous behavior might pay you a compliment but not be sincere about it, or they might act very kind within earshot of colleagues, but cold and unfriendly when it's just the two of you.


Identify the co-worker's behavior as passive-aggressive; however, refrain from attempting to render any type of diagnosis of someone's behavior. The safest way to describe a co-worker who you believe has these tendencies is to say, "She shows tendencies of passive-aggressive behavior," instead of "She's passive-aggressive." Be careful about discussing your co-worker's behavior with others or you, too, can be called out for acting differently when the co-worker is around, yet discussing her when she's not around.


Refrain from engaging in a back-and-forth exchange with the co-worker. It's virtually impossible to outdo a passive-aggressive person's remarks, and doing so simply puts you in the same category. One way to catch the passive aggressor off-base is to pretend that you believe her compliments are sincere. Don't buy into the sarcasm or anger you believe underlies the misleading compliments or smiles. For example, when a co-worker says that you're exceptionally good at cozying up to your boss, you could say, "Thank you, I like to let others see my talents and capabilities."


Suppress your frustration or your own angry feelings about a passive-aggressive co-worker. You may not be able to totally ignore your co-worker, especially if you work in close proximity; however, you can refuse to let the disingenuous remarks get under your skin. At some point, finding clever ways to frustrate someone gets tiring when the person at whom the actions are directed simply doesn't respond.


Avoid asking your supervisor or manager to intervene. You may not get the support you want, because reporting minor incidents to your supervisor will cast a negative light on your ability to resolve workplace problems using your own resources. The only reason you should go to a supervisor or manager is to report behavior that crosses the line into unlawful harassment that affects your ability to do your job. If the passive-aggressive co-worker's comments and behavior don't impact your job performance, then it's probably just a character flaw you will need to overlook.


Extend the olive branch to your co-worker when you feel the timing is good to engage her in a conversation. At a minimum, tell the co-worker that the two of you don't have to like each and you don't have to be friends, but that you can be respectful of each other. If the passive-aggressive co-worker is not receptive to a truce, simply state that you will no longer tolerate passive-aggressive behavior.