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Working With Passive-Aggressive People

By LeaderTalk Contributor — July 29, 2009 2 min read

I find working with people who are passive-aggressive wearing. I try to get to the source of what is causing them to be sullen or moody, but I can’t get a straight answer. Either they say “nothing” is bothering them and “everything is fine” when it is so obviously untrue or there are so many causes that even if it is within my power to fix something, they say “it doesn’t matter” because there are still too many other things that can’t be fixed.

I am, by far, not perfect. Yet, I do make a conscious choice to come to work every day and face people with a positive attitude, even when I might not be feeling it on the inside. I try not to be a pig (see Dan Winters’ post), I try to give people what they need to do their job and I don’t bring my problems from home to work. I try to create a positive work environment because the work we do is hard and we spend a lot of hours at work and I don’t think laughing and being happy should only happen outside the work day. Nor should eating chocolate.

This post isn’t about working with the majority of people who have a bad day now and then. I have that too. It’s more than that.

This is about the few people who make you wonder what mood they will be in when you approach them. It’s great to be around them when the mood is positive. Or the people who smile and appear agreeable to your face, which is nice, but you are fairly certain that behind your back they don’t look the same way or sound as friendly when your name comes up. These people do their job, that’s not the issue. The issue is how their mood, or personality, negatively affects the others around them. Which in turn can affect the work environment.

Believe me, this isn’t about wanting everyone to like me. I’m not here for that. It’s about being in a leadership position, wanting to do right by the kids we serve and both needing and wanting the adults who work with me, for the most part, to be positive with me. I’m not just talking about teachers here. It’s all the staff. Office, maintenance, kitchen, support staff, bus drivers.

From what I’ve read, it’s not easy to change this behavior. People who act like this usually don’t see themselves as the problem, even if it is clearly stated to them what they are doing and how their behavior affects the others around them. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it is wearing working with them.

Could I discipline them? Possibly, and I will if it comes to that. But, I am a leader in a profession that serves kids. And we serve kids who are at-risk or have disabilities, so every day they are here we are working on shaping behavior for the good. Should I stop doing that just because the negative behavior comes from employees? Should they know better because they are adults and get a paycheck? Maybe. Should I try harder to help them because I am the leader? Maybe. Probably.

When the kids are in the building, it is easy to get caught up in what is happening with them and issues like this take a back seat because it doesn’t happen every day. The pace is slower this month, so the issues have moved to the front seat. Which has caused me to stop and reflect, once again, on the importance of the adults around me and the responsibility this position has to not only do right by the students, but also by the adults who have not just jobs, but careers, here.

Reggie Engebritson

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