Hello everybody, welcome to episode 36 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today on the slab, we’ve got a question that came in about a passive aggressive colleague, AKA difficult coworkers.
Ah, yes. Powerful enough to take the fun away from even the most fulfilling of jobs, aren’t they, difficult coworkers? Let’s see what this woman has to say about her difficult coworker…
QUESTION: “Hi Greg, I appreciate your thoughtful podcast with great insights and advice. I recently started a new position within my company and I am struggling with trying to have a good working relationship with another employee on my team who exhibits passive aggressive behavior. I have been nothing but professional with him and he continues to try to stir up conflict and tension where there is no reason for it. I hate that I don't have enough emotional resilience to just shrug him off. Do you have some strategies that would be helpful in allowing me to do my job without worrying about what negativity he is going to send my way?”
You Only Have So Much Control Over Others' Behavior
There we have it. First of all, I have to start by saying thank you for the kind words and to let you know that I appreciate you right back for helping the show thrive not only through your support, but now for your participation! Thank you kindly. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty.
According to counselor and psychotherapist Andrea Harrn, passive aggressive behavior is defined as a “non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior.”
I shouldn’t have to tell you or anyone, really, that you only have so much control over other people’s behavior. Sure that can shift sometimes based on the relationship, but especially in a situation like this, we both know there’s only so much you can do. Let’s start by going down the laundry list of things you can try, though, just for laughs.
You’ve done your duty by being nothing but professional to him, as you mentioned.
You can be kind to him — which goes a step beyond being professional, right? Being kind might mean offering him a compliment for every dig he takes at you (kind of becomes a game that’s both weird and fun if you try something like that). Kindness also means making a strong, active effort to understand him, his needs, and why he has such a hard time offering kindness himself. God knows he might not have anyone willing to listen to that side of him and if you show him that, all of a sudden he falls in love with you. Gross, right?
What else? You can report him to HR or consult your boss about it and sort of deflect his behavior to the proper authority.
You can speak your mind to him directly and stand up for yourself – letting him know that his behavior is inappropriate. Mind you, he might not even realize that he’s offending you, in which case, this approach could alter things completely.
Beyond these approaches, there wouldn’t be many others you could TRY that could be both effective and non-aggressive. And these can all work. Depends on the situation, but these strategies all have the power to completely change this type of work relationship dynamic.
So you can try these (you’ll pretty much have to to insure to yourself that you made your best effort) and I sincerely hope one of them works. But anyone can try these things, and this episode is really about what to do if these baseline ideas don’t work.
You CAN Control Who You Want to Spend Time With
So if they DON’T work, and your passive aggressive colleague is still flying around the office acting like a degenerate, you’ll inevitably have to ask yourself why it’s necessary to have a good relationship with him. Sure it’d be nice, but if you’ve tried all the things you can try to change him and he doesn’t, eventually you’ll have to come to the realization that there’s no more you can try to control and that it’s instead time to shift focus towards the things that you CAN control.
While the subject in question is someone that you don’t like spending time with, one of the things you CAN control is those who you do want to spend time with. Joining a new team at work can be a tough thing to adapt to, and it can be easy to feel alone during such a transition especially if one of your new team members is making you feel unwelcome.
Take this opportunity to connect with someone at work who’s an ally and form a new healthy relationship to overpower the draining feeling you’re getting from the relationship with the coworker you’re struggling with. Maybe the person with which you create this new relationship feels the same way about the other coworker.
If this passive aggressive colleague is as turbulent as you say he is, I’d be surprised if there aren’t many others in the office who share the same feelings that you do. Find these people and form a group with people you feel compatible with. Ideally, this group would be healthiest if ALL the time isn’t spent degrading this other coworker when he’s not within earshot, but if he’s the main topic in the beginning, I guess that’s not so unnatural.
You Can Control Your Own Work
Needless to say, you can also control your own work. Several things at work have the power to make us feel good or bad, so don’t let this man steal all of the thunder. Maybe set personal intentions to perform better at work than you did last month and healthily up your productivity.
This would probably be the biggest of other ways you can start to feel good about work again, or at least take the good with the bad and bring yourself back to neutral. Get creative about other steps you can take to bring the joy out of work: maybe you can organize an office party or fundraiser and create a new fun, role for yourself that allows you to see your work life differently and maybe, just maybe let others at work see your work life differently, too, like this obnoxious coworker.
You Have Control Over Yourself
The point is, what you can control most in this situation is you, and not him. And that’s very good news for you, because what you might be missing about this is the fact that the real battle you’re fighting is not with your coworker, but with your tendency to worry about him and God knows what else.
Feeling overpowered and worried by him or anything else is the theme that stands a chance at following you through your life a lot longer than he does. So start to see the ideas we’ve talked about today, and especially start to see HIM, as nothing more but ongoing opportunity for you to build the emotional resilience you seek.
Passive Aggressive Colleague: Conclusion
Going into work and knowing that he’s going to push your buttons is great practice for you. It’s this kind of friction and getting comfortable with this kind of friction that thickens your skin and better prepares you to be unfazed by similar friction in the future.
Looking at him and your options to handle him in a different light makes him only work to your benefit, and enables his presence to serve you rather than take away from you. If you do this right, when all is said and done, you might even be thanking him.
Thanks so much for sending this question in, always love a new topic. I sure hope you were able to take something from this episode — asker and all viewers alike. Work relationships are very important needless to say.
As are all relationships, by the way, and just a friendly reminder that I am now also hosting Optimal Relationships Daily (another podcast in the OLD universe) for those who haven’t tuned in yet.
Aside from some upcoming readings of my own essays, on that podcast I’m narrating the best relationship content we can find online and bringing it to you Monday-Friday so be sure to check that out if you’re a relationship junkie. If you still have your own struggle you need answered though, have no fear, you can always email us your questions at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’re happy to answer your questions here on Optimal Living Advice, so keep em’ coming, ok? Wonderful. Can’t wait to talk to you guys next time, hope to see you all there. Take care, everybody.