Passive-aggressive behavior is a way of expressing negative emotions like anger or annoyance through indirect ways like sarcasm, fake flattery, procrastination or ignoring someone. These negative emotions come across as passive aggressive phrases.

For example, let’s say I always buy you a birthday present, and this year you forgot to get me one. You call a few days later and apologize, and I say, “Hey, that’s fine, we all forget.” But I am properly miffed.

The problem is, you’re my good friend, so I don’t come out directly and challenge you. Instead, I drop subtle clues I’m not happy. I may ‘forget’ to return your calls and blame a busy work schedule, or I might say mean things about you and laugh them off as ‘only joking’ when you challenge me.

58 Passive Aggressive Phrases

Passive-aggressive behavior occurs in any situation where the perpetrator doesn’t want to deal directly with their negative feelings.

You are most likely to hear passive aggressive phrases in the workplace. Research shows passive-aggressive behavior is common in the workplace, with 73% experiencing some kind of passive-aggressive communication at work. At work, we expect ourselves to be respectful to our colleagues.

We frown on outbursts and confrontations. We rely on workplace etiquette from our co-workers, but this can lead to resentment and bottling up our feelings.

20 Passive Aggressive Phrases in the Workplace

According to this study, co-workers (20%) are the most passive-aggressive people. Of all passive-aggressive behavior, co-workers describe fake politeness and weaponized kindness as the worst examples.

Examples of workplace passive-aggressive phrases:

  1. “As you are no doubt aware…”
  2. “For future reference…”
  3. “I’m sure you’re doing the best you can.”
  4. “Reattaching for your convenience.”
  5. “Hopefully this helps.”
  6. “You couldn’t have done any better.”
  7. “Friendly reminder…”
  8. “Just circling back.”
  9. “Wow, you’re working harder than anyone else out there. And it shows.”
  10. “As per my last email…”
  11. “This person is serviceable.”
  12. “Correct me if I’m wrong.”
  13. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
  14. “I advise you to waste no time in hiring this candidate.”
  15. “Going forward…”
  16. “I’m not sure if you saw my last email.”
  17. “Like I already told you.”
  18. “I wish I had as much time off as you.”
  19. “Oh, you’re quitting? Well, you are irreplaceable.”
  20. “No one could be a better choice than you.”

18 Passive Aggressive Phrases From Family Members

The most passive-aggressive people after co-workers are mothers (18%). Passive-aggressive comments from either parent can be brutal, as we constantly strive for attention and validation.

  1. “You did way better than expected.”
  2. “You look so much nicer when you smile.”
  3. Can’t you take a joke?”
  4. “That was surprisingly good.”
  5. “You’d look more professional without those tattoos.”
  6. “I thought you knew?”
  7. “Looks like you’re finally getting your shit together.”
  8. “If only you were more like your sister/brother.”
  9. “I didn’t think you’d want to be invited.”
  10. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’re good at other stuff.”
  11. “Well, if that’s what you want.”
  12. “Did you do something different today? You look pretty.”
  13. “If you think so…”
  14. “When did you get so smart?”
  15. “You’re so lucky.”
  16. “Wow, those clothes look so slimming on you.”
  17. “You look so good; I hardly recognized you.”
  18. “You’re so brave to wear that.”

20 Passive Aggressive Things Friends Say

Finally, the same research shows that our friends make up 16% of all passive-aggressive phrases.

  1. “Fine. Whatever.”
  2. “Wow, I didn’t recognize you. You’ve really matured.”
  3. “Why are you always so emotional?”
  4. “No offense, but…”
  5. “You’ve done well, considering your background.”
  6. “Good for you.”
  7. “Why don’t you…”
  8. I’m so sorry that bothers you so much.”
  9. “I like what you tried to do there.”
  10. “You are a Prince among Kings.”
  11. “If you say so.”
  12. “You look good when you make the effort.”
  13. “I’m sorry I asked so much of you.”
  14. “That’s probably for the best.”
  15. “Thanks for being so understanding.”
  16. “I hope the rest of your day is as pleasant as you are.”
  17. “Well, that’s exceptional for someone like you.”
  18. “Your intelligence far exceeds your education level.”
  19. “Wow, nice car. You were going really fast when I passed you.”
  20. “I think it’s amazing how you’ve got the confidence to wear something like that! You’re so brave!”

What to Do about Passive Aggressive Phrases?

Of course, not every one of the above phrases could be passive aggressive. Some might be genuine compliments. You must look at the intent behind the phrase.

At its heart, passive aggressive behavior stems from a reluctance to confront a situation or person directly.

“Being passive-aggressive often entails a desire to avoid face-to-face conflict, not being truly honest about what [someone is] thinking or making subtle comments that appear harmless yet have an underlying negative impact on the receiver,”

-Miya Yung, associate clinical social worker

Perhaps the person is uncomfortable with confrontation, or they find it embarrassing. Or maybe they don’t want to let the other person know how upset they are because it will force a discussion about the relationship/situation and they’re not ready to address that.

If you’re on the receiving end of passive aggressive phrases:

  • Don’t react immediately.
  • Stay calm. This situation isn’t about you. Take it as a sign of unhappiness the other person cannot express directly just yet.
  • Be nonjudgmental and encourage honest and open discussion.
  • Be clear to this person. You cannot control how they react.

If you are being passive aggressive:

  • Ask yourself why this behavior is so triggering for you.
  • Acknowledge the negative emotions you’re feeling (at least to yourself).
  • Practice gratitude for the things you have.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can fall into using passive aggressive phrases. However, ignoring it leads to resentment and toxic relationships. Being empathic to others’ needs and communicating with no judgment always produces the best in people.


  3. Featured image by freepik

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