If there are passive-aggressive people in your life, you will want to know how to deal with them.

Those of us who are straight-talking and no-nonsense types, nothing gets on our nerves more than passive-aggressive people. It is one of the most insidious and underhand ways of dealing with conflict. So why do some people continue to use it? More importantly, how to deal with the passive-aggressive behaviours of these people?

People use passive-aggressive behaviour for a number of different purposes. The main reasons are a fear of direct conflict and a feeling of helplessness.

Before we go any further, if you are in any doubt as to what passive-aggressive behaviour is, here are some examples:

  • Pretending everything is fine when there is a problem.
  • Sulking, sullen, insulting behaviour.
  • Complaining loudly about a loved one within hearing distance.
  • Doing everything themselves, then getting angry that no one helps.
  • Giving a person the silent treatment.
  • Withholding love, praise, affection or sex.
  • Deliberately failing to cause another person problems.
  • Intentional inefficiency or sabotage.
  • Withholding important information on purpose.
  • Going behind a person’s back to undermine them.
  • Spreading nasty rumours or gossiping.
  • Noncommittal in their agreements.
  • Going back on their word so you never know where you are.
  • Do something half-assed.
  • Allowing a problem to escalate through deliberately doing nothing.
  • Being late in order to escape a situation.
  • Continual procrastination, forgetting or denying.
  • Flaring up over the slightest situation then making out it was a joke.
  • Always playing the victim.

Recognise any of these signs? Now, let’s talk about the ways to deal with passive-aggressive people.

How to deal with passive-aggressive people?

1. Recognise that it is passive-aggressive behaviour

Passive-aggressiveness is all about subterfuge and dishonesty. You have to be a detective in order to unravel the behaviour for what it is. Therefore, identifying and recognising the behaviour is the first step in dealing with passive-aggressive people.

It is a kind of battle in which one side is using underhand tactics to be hostile. Once you see it as a battle, it empowers you to act. The minute you start to show leniency you’ve lost. Passive-aggressive behaviour is all about power struggles between two parties. Like a tug-of-war. Give an inch and you’ll lose ground.

2. Get the person to admit they are using passive-aggressive behaviour

This might be difficult. The whole point about passive-aggressive behaviour is that it is covert.

The best way to get someone to admit what they are doing is to ask a lot of open-ended questions. These are questions that require more than a yes or no response. They get the person to open up about what’s troubling them.

3. Don’t take it personally

The worst thing you can do when a person is acting in a passive-aggressive manner is to take it personally. There could be all kinds of reasons why a person uses this behaviour to avoid conflict.

Reasons why people use passive-aggressive behaviour:

4. Stay calm

If you are anything like me, passive-aggressive people will drive you nuts. It’s really important, however, to stay calm and not get angry.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is extremely negative. If you get angry, you’ve turned the negativity back onto yourself. You’re now dealing with feelings of anger and frustration when what you need to focus on is their behaviour.

Diverting attention away from the actual problem is exactly what these people want. If you exert a calm air of assertiveness, it shows you cannot be manipulated.

5. Be assertive

Talking of being assertive, you can also communicate in an assertive manner. There are many ways of being assertive, including:

  • Using ‘I’ and not ‘you’ as this stops the other person feeling as if you are blaming them.
  • Maintain natural eye contact that it comfortable and not intimidating or frightening.
  • Speak in slow and even tones and avoid using high-pitched or whiny tones.
  • Use open body languages such as open palms and smiles that communicate a sense of warmth and likeability.
  • Don’t be accusatory.
  • Listen to the person’s point of view and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Wait for them to express their feelings and then put your points across in a calm and matter-of-fact way.

6. Don’t react in anger to their behaviour

Passive-aggressive types want an immediate reaction. Preferably an angry one. This is why they use this kind of behaviour in the first place – to provoke you.

If you do react in anger, all you are doing is reinforcing negative behaviour. By ignoring it, you stop it in its tracks. However, just because you shouldn’t react in anger, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t react at all.

7. Do confront their behaviour

A key way of stopping someone’s passive-aggressive behavior is to deal with these people openly. So you should confront them, but be clear and stick to the facts. Don’t generalise, use specific incidents as examples.

For instance, it’s no good being vague about a person’s procrastination at work. Saying things like, “You never get things done!” won’t get the situation resolved. You need to point out specific projects where the person didn’t start the work on time.

8. Be positive to counteract the negativity

What is the best solution to negativity? Relentless positivity of course! Just as some people kill others with kindness, so should you blast out those positive vibes! So what is a good way to engage in a positive manner?

Set realistic goals and time limits if your passive-aggressive pal is prone to procrastination. Be inclusive for those who feel left out or ignored. Offer positive reinforcement for young passive-aggressive offenders (children that use this behaviour to get out of chores etc.).

More than anything, make the person feel as if they’ve been heard, the problem acknowledged and their feelings validated.

9. Put yourself in their position, get them to see yours

In other words, provoke and invoke empathy. Whatever the situation, if you see it from their point of view, you’ll gain insight into what’s bothering them. It might not make sense, but at least you’ll have a clearer idea of how to move forward.

Not only that but get them to see things from your point of view and they’ll have some perspective.

10. If all else fails…

Finally, if you’ve tried everything and you still can’t get a resolution, you might have to back off altogether.

It is possible that this person has serious issues that only a professional can deal with. You must remember that you are not a therapist, and you have to consider your own mental health and stability.

It’s perfectly acceptable to remove yourself from the situation and get on with your own life. That’s your main responsibility. Try your hardest but if you can’t help, don’t feel bad, know that you did your very best.


  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/
  2. https://psychcentral.com/

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Rafael

    So true, Janey. Good article, I quit my job to keep my sanity from toxic asswipes like the two face, passive aggressive.
    now I’m making from 1x to 3x my old salary. I was sick for a year but finally realized those are people that are afraid and hurting others to keep their ways.

    Good article. Good insight.

  2. Sheila

    Thanks for the tips!

    I have to work with a Passive Aggressive woman in my office who pretends she never hears, sees anything! When things don’t go her way she will get quiet, or she will try and piss you off to get a reaction out of you. In addition to this, she’s also a Narcissist who thinks she knows what’s best for everyone and anyone who will listen! She loves to talk about herself, me, me, me. What she does, who with, and the constant bragging on Social Media is ridiculous!

    Thanks again 🙂

  3. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Very helpful information.

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