16 Smart Ways To Confront Someone About Their Passive-Aggressive Behavior

16 Smart Ways To Confront Someone About Their Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Wouldn’t life be grand if people would just say what they mean and mean what they say? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, and many people would prefer to be passive-aggressive with their words and actions instead of being clear and direct. If you’re dealing with someone like that, here’s how to call them out on it and stand a chance at something good coming of it.

1. Stay calm when you confront them.

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There’s no sense in losing your temper when you’re trying to remind someone else that they need to do better. Keep the emotional high ground and calmly explain yourself to this person. They won’t listen to you otherwise. As hard as it is to come from a neutral place, it’s far better than stooping to their level.

2. Call it out.

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Be direct — don’t beat around the bush (which is exactly what they should be doing). Tell this person that their passive-aggressive approach won’t float with you. They might use it as a way of communicating with their other friends, but you need to tell them it’s a waste of time and offensive.

3. Tell them it’s not the mic drop they think it is.

woman being blunt and overbearing

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Sometimes people think that passive-aggressive tendencies are a way of being more discrete when they’re feeling aggrieved. However, it’s always totally transparent, and frankly, it’s often uncomfortable for the people around you. Have some consideration — other people are going through things too and they can hold their tongue.

4. Tell them to pick an emotion and address it.

Doubting dissatisfied man looking at woman, bad first date concept, young couple sitting at table in cafe, talking, bad first impression, new acquaintance in public place, unpleasant conversation

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These people are clearly feeling petulant and annoyed. It would better serve them to actually express one or the other and get closure. If they don’t resolve the feelings, they’ll only get bottled up altogether and result in an even worse point of conflict.

5. Say they’re just doing it for attention.

awkward first date

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Passive-aggressive tendencies emerge when people can’t commit to what they’re feeling because they don’t know. As a result, they want validation and attention — the reaction to their outburst is what they’re after. They expect people to be impressed that they made a scene because they want attention.

6. Understand it’s their inner child talking.

woman rolling her eyes on date

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When people lash out with passive-aggressive language, it’s because they want someone present to see it. They think they’re not being heard in other ways so they try this disguised form of communication, but it comes across as desperate and misguided.

7. Ask why they’re acting out.

woman cuddling up to boyfriend on a winter day

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If you don’t want to make assumptions, a good way of getting to the root of the problem is to simply ask them what’s wrong. They’re clearly struggling with something but directing this energy to you isn’t productive. Once you know what’s wrong, you can come up with a solution.

8. Suggest some tools you use to improve their mindset.

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Explain that it’s human to feel frustration and that you have often resorted to being passive-aggressive before. Manage the situation by clarifying what tools you use to deal with your feelings so that they can use them going forward. It will make them feel heard.

9. Remind them you’re available for a real chat.

Teen couple drinking juice and having a date in the coffee bar

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As long as you’re giving them another outlet other than passive-aggressive behavior, you’re managing the situation well. Cut it off at the source. When they see that you want to help, they’ll be less defensive.

10. Summon your inner parent.

couple enjoying romantic dinner date

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If you feel like you need to be an authority figure and lecture them about how lazy being passive-aggressive is as a conversational crutch, then do it. Tell them that it isn’t funny, nor is it effective at communicating their displeasure. If they weren’t aware they were being passive-aggressive, this will shock them into change.

11. “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.”

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When a sullen teenager starts stropping this is what they get told. As a result, it’s a recognizable and effective way of stopping that activity in anyone else. When their public passive-aggressive language starts to embarrass other people at the table, they need to be embarrassed as well.

12. Tell them to use silence to process their anger.

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We don’t all need to use words all the time, not when silence would do the same thing without making people feel awkward. Remind them it gives them time to process their anger before saying petulant things that they can’t un-say.

13. Explain how their insolence hurts you.

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When you’re explaining why they need to change how they channel their anger, tell them how it hurts your feelings when they snap at you. If they can’t process their own emotions, they should gain clarity from hearing about yours. Your vulnerability will encourage them to tap into theirs.

14. Remind them it could get them in trouble.

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Not everyone will take passive-aggressive retorts on the chin. In fact, in certain environments, such as professional offices, these people need to be reminded that they can come across as highly disrespectful. Talking to a boss in that tone could be grounds for firing — make sure you’re not guilty of that one!

15. Ask to have a conversation as equals.

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When people bring a passive-aggressive attitude to a conversation it’s because they feel that’s the only way they can assert control. Remind them you’re equals, not an authority figure they need approval from. You’re someone they need to respect and can ask for help.

16. Flip it on them and see how they like it.

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If all else fails and they can’t see that they’re bringing all this negativity, just be passive-aggressive right back. It’s not a great solution — and worse if it happens within a romantic relationship — but it’s the one thing that might force them to look at themselves in the mirror and see the error of their ways.

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Hannah has a Masters degree in Romantic and Victorian literature in Scotland and spends her spare time writing anything from essays to short fiction about the life and times of the frogs in her local pond! She loves musical theatre, football, anything with potatoes, and remains a firm believer that most of the problems in this world can be solved by dancing around the kitchen to ABBA. You can find her on Instagram at @_hannahvic.