If you’ve ever left a difficult conversation thinking, “What just happened?” and then later thought to yourself, “Hey, s/he screwed me out of that promotion,” or “Wait a minute — s/he didn’t even answer my question,” then you’ve probably been the victim of a passive-aggressive person on the move.
In all aspects of life we are going to run into family members, co-workers and bosses, and service and business people who use conflicting behavior and language to confuse, all the while dismissing the importance of either and instead keeping the focus on your behavior and language. To counter it productively, get to know what you’re up against and learn to think quickly on your feet.
What am I up against?
“Overly simplistic” is a way to describe a proposed solution that doesn’t take the parts of a whole into account. If you need an empty bucket so you can transport water, but only have access to a bucket full of gasoline, emptying the bucket into the river is overly simplistic.
This phrase and others like it are a tool of the passive-aggressive (PA) person. Instead of using it correctly and in proper context, though, they use it to deflect, redirect, and deceive. The PA uses this phrase, among others, in a very sweeping way when they’ve already made a decision (about your proposal or suggestion), but don’t want to tell you. As often, the PA will say s/he hasn’t made a decision, when in fact they have.
If you’ve seen Toy Story, you may recall the dinosaur who said, “I don’t like confrontation!” The dinosaur was passive-aggressive. He took no initiative or responsibility, made no suggestions of his own, and felt the need to find fault in suggestions made by others. This was endearing in Toy Story because the character was a toy. In real life the character is a person, and this kind of behavior is the opposite of endearing.
The passive-aggressive (PA) has but one very powerful tool: their passive-aggressiveness. Don’t underestimate its power or the PA’s willingness to use it – even as it may undermine or destroy whatever they appear to have wanted. The PA can slice you to bits and leave your thinking you’re thankful (or ungrateful) for the opportunity. Fortunately, most PAs only have that one tool, and its use is totally dependent on two things: you losing, and them never being found out.
Thinking fast on your feet requires that you stop looking at them.
The only thing worse than a PA is someone who says they want a direct answer, but isn’t really prepared to hear it. These people are the PA’s fodder and are the sole reason s/he continues to enjoy a place in the food chain. If you are PA fodder, get professional help so you can stop being their chew toy. (This is not simplistic advice. Getting professional help is an investment that takes a commitment.)
Without a target, the PA has no reason to interact with others and would eventually turn on him or herself. Use this to your advantage, and be prepared for it to get worse before it gets better. Once they turn upon themselves they will desperately seek attention, sympathy, and assistance. Their story is charming, convincing, and lethal.
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re on the receiving end of a PA, go the other way. PAs don’t usually physically follow or seek out; rather they do whatever will attract the attention of those who are drawn to others. By walking the other way, you will know if the person in conversation was a PA or not.