Communication is a cornerstone for high-functioning teams and achieving maximum productivity. Every company has to start this way, and most of them did. Yet, unfortunately, when there is a recurring pattern of communication breakdowns, it inevitably has a ripple effect throughout the organization. This is often seen with passive-aggressive bosses at work.

The consequences of these actions can be devastating to professional and personal development. Ultimately, this can lead to higher levels of employee burnout, disengagement, anxiety, and subsequent company turnover.

Unfortunately, these results happen all too often in the workplace. With 4 out of 5 employees reporting that workplace stress affects their personal and professional relationships, the workplace has become an unwelcoming place.

Most people would not communicate their true inner feelings and frustrations because of the potential consequences of speaking up. Here are some tips for passive-aggressive bosses.

How do you deal with passive-aggressive bosses?

A whopping 64% of employees feel their leadership team doesn’t provide the support they need to meet the demands of their jobs. And nearly 57% of employees report leaving their current positions because of poor leadership.

Passive aggressiveness is a tendency that can be even more damaging when a leader’s communication is distorted through passive-aggressive behavior. Whether it’s mean comments, deceptive leadership, or a lack of ownership, these actions can have severe consequences on the overall performance of organizations and individual team members.

Dealing with a passive-aggressive boss is intimidating and challenging. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or shouldn’t be done.

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When equipped with the right mindset and tools to navigate these situations, employees can overcome this burden to help their leaders break these bad habits or find the clarity needed to look for another job. But before we take the other side of the road, let’s try taking the main road.

1. Ask the tough questions

Most of the time, even a passive-aggressive boss may not know that he is acting the way he is. After all, bad habits are not always so obvious to the person who has them. So keeping people honest is essential to finding solutions to this persistent problem.

In most situations, your boss may think he is acting right or normal. Having acquired their passive-aggressive responses through ill-learned survival habits, their role has become a daily routine for them. No matter the situation, you will always have the power to navigate these muddy waters.

By asking questions and prioritizing clarification, you immediately put them in the decision-making hot seat.

If you feel like you’re being left out of the project, you can say and ask, “I’m not sure about the role I have in this project. Could you walk me through it?’

When you search for more information, it shows that you’re invested in creating high-quality results. For example, during passive-aggressive behavior, data may be withheld or used against you. It is always best to seek knowledge and information to avoid this trap.

Asking for feedback or clarity after a discussion is an effective way to help your boss gradually realize their shortcomings with their communication and effectively use their words to guide your future actions. By ensuring a high level of transparency, you will be able to meet your goals and ensure long-term success.

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2. Strive to build trust

Amazing things can happen when we intentionally invest time and energy into a relationship. With a passive-aggressive boss in the hot seat, they seek a relationship of trust more than you might imagine. Just as passive-aggressive managers are not self-aware of their behavior, they often seek credibility among their peers and colleagues. After all, they are still human.

Most importantly, leaders act this way by projecting their inner feelings and emotions. When a person comes from a place of insecurity, fear, and paranoia, actions reflect that. Employees rarely fully understand the whole picture of what is going on in the lives of their leaders.

Although you may take the hit with destructive behavior, know that very few people in the world really want to make you feel bad about yourself.

Investing in a relationship of trust with your leader will pay dividends down the road because you are now an active participant in helping them improve their psychological well-being. When leaders have employees and colleagues they trust, they can step back and process their actions and shared goals.

Building trust is the foundation of success. Most people don’t realize how easy effective communication can be. Master your ability to connect with others and watch passive-aggressive behavior break down.

3. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up

High-level leaders take action, but not everyone in a leadership position is action-oriented. This goes for everyone, including other passive-aggressive people at work.

In many situations, leaders who come from a place of uncertainty or fear will rarely take the initiative to put themselves on the line to make a decision.

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Unfortunately, this damages the organization and those involved in the inaction. This can be devastating when these decisions are needed to create the necessary changes to grow the company and improve the lives of your colleagues.

The scariest phrase any leader can say is “we’ve always done it this way.”

Why? Because they are afraid of change, and when they are, you know your boss is passive-aggressive.

However, change is the only guarantee in life and business. This is a good thing because it means your organization is adapting to new problems, creating solutions, and finding ways to be more effective in serving the bottom line.

One of the best ways to combat this problem is to own your results.

You inherently hold others accountable by taking the initiative to track and be accountable for your results. People need to remain honest in order to continue to grow and deal with flaws in their judgment. Following and being a leader through your actions is one of the most effective ways to maximize your chances of making a difference.

4. Be honest and take action

Many relationships begin with a lack of understanding of expectations, preferences, or individual perspectives. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

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Think about the first time you met someone.

  • How much did you agree with their thoughts and perspectives?
  • Maybe you agreed with the things they said, but it contradicted some of your personal beliefs?
  • Have you ever stayed in a friendship or romantic relationship that never took it to the next level?

The same goes for your relationship with your passive-aggressive boss, and that includes other passive-aggressive people at work. If you really want to drive change in your organization, your actions must spread across all functions and levels.

By being honest and having integrity, you can create the necessary change you are looking for in your organization. By repeatedly acting with intention, you will facilitate the necessary change in your organization.

With all of this in mind, know that nothing will change unless you decide to take action. Nothing will change if you are unable to make the change you wanted in the first place. While it may seem daunting to accept the challenge and communicate directly with clarity, it will pay off in the long run.

Final thoughts

If your boss is still passive-aggressive, keep that in mind and know that all good things come with time. Changes may not happen overnight, but things will change with repeated efforts and consistent actions.

This doesn’t mean you have to put up with your passive-aggressive boss. While being positive should always be one of your life’s mottos, there should be a limit to how much you have to deal with a passive-aggressive boss.

All good organizations will change over time. There will be new problems, new employees and new processes that every company will inevitably face. However, those who can be considered great must become masters of consistently dealing with change and growth.

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Show your value by being part of the solution, not the problem. You have what it takes to be a great leader, so show it through your actions, words and relationships.

Credit for featured photo: Christina Morillo via

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