Study: Passive Aggressive Behavior Common in the Workplace

Passive-aggressive behavior is an indirect expression of negative feelings. Instead of openly addressing problems with an individual, one might say or do something that expresses frustration or anger without clearly communicating feelings. Unfortunately, passive aggressive behaviors make both communication and conflict resolution more difficult. A recent survey of more than 1,200 people demonstrates how common passive-aggressive behavior is in the workplace.

Key Findings

  • According to the survey, 99% of Americans have experienced someone being passive-aggressive. 82% admit to being passive-aggressive themselves.
  • The most passive-aggressive people, according to Americans, are their coworkers (20%), mothers (18%) and friends (16%).
  • The worst passive-aggressive phrases you could say include “You’re too sensitive,” “Why are you getting so upset?” and “No offense, but…”
  • 73% experience passive-aggressive communication at work; and 52% of those experience it at least weekly.
  • At work, three of the most passive-aggressive phrases are “as you no doubt are aware…,” “for future reference” and “friendly reminder.”
  • 69% think people are more passive-aggressive online than in person.

Worst Types of Passive Aggressive Communications and Behaviors

According to the study, the worst types of passive aggressive communications are shifting blame (“you’re too sensitive”), patronizing (“no offense, but…”), and denying anger. The worst types of passive aggressive behaviors are fake politeness, fake innocence, and weaponized kindness. Weaponized kindness is when a person acts overly polite as a manipulation tactic.

Passive Aggression in the Workplace

73% of respondents report experiencing passive-aggressive behavior at work. And 52% encounter passive-aggression at least weekly. 38% feel their workplace incentives passive aggressive behavior, 39% don’t feel free to express their feelings at work and 52% admit to being passive aggressive themselves. 47% say they would quit if a boss, coworker or client was consistently being passive- aggressive.

The 10 Worst Passive Aggressive Phrases at Work

  1. As you are no doubt aware
  2. For future reference
  3. Friendly reminder
  4. CC’ing (my boss) for visibility
  5. Per my last email
  6. Correct me if I’m wrong
  7. Just to be sure we’re on the same page
  8. Going forward…
  9. Not sure if you saw my last email
  10. Updates?

It can be frustrating when a coworker or client is not being responsive or transparent. Therefore, it’s not surprising that passive aggression is common in the workplace. One does not always have to option of being blunt or confrontational at work. Passive aggressive phrasing may seem like the only option in a professional setting. However, there may be better ways to communicate that are both professional and clear. Before using a passive aggressive phrase, ask yourself if there is a more direct (but still polite) way of getting your point across. For example, instead of saying “per my last email”, you can simply give the information again. If you find yourself being passive aggressive with the same person regularly, ask yourself what behaviors trigger your passive aggressive tendencies and try to be more direct with the individual about the problem.

See the full survey here: