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Passive Aggressive Behavior – What is it? – What causes it? – Why do we care?

This short article is on topic of passive aggressive action/behavior

Passive aggressive action/behavior is one of hot topic in workplace behavior learning, and it is sometime perceived or understood out of context as of what it really is. For this reason, this article is mean to aggregate and synthesize definitions, perspectives, cause and shortly on accountability of passive aggression.

According to Hopwood and Wright (2012), passive aggressive action is triggered from negative thought. Passive aggression is about the refusal to comply with certain demand (Millon, 1981). This behavior can be broken down into three categories (DSM; American Psychiatric Association, 1952):
1) Passive-dependent: helpless, indecisive and clingy
2) Passive-aggressive: stubborn, inefficient, and prompt to procrastination and obstruction
3) Aggressive: irritable, destructive and resentful

Passive aggressive action/behavior can be derived as intentional inefficiency, procrastination, and apparent forgetfulness (passive format) to against, delay, and create obstacle (aggressive format) for demand of result in routine social or occupational tasks

Passive Aggression and Workplace
Passive Aggression is common in workplace; especially in sensitive issues (Gallo, 2016). Based on Whitson, (2013) passive Aggressive actions often happen in a covert and justifiable actions which cleverly avoid Humana Resource (HR) disciplinary action while disrupting workflow – a work efficiency killer. This behavior is constructed inefficiency on purpose (Morin, 2015). Gallo (2016) states that everyone do passive aggression once in a while, but it become destructive when individual do this often – when this become a disorder, a problem for those whom he/she work, interact or live with.

Cause for Passive Aggressive Actions
The reason/cause/motivation for passive aggression are often revolve around:
1) Afraid of conflict (Gallo, 2016)
– A way to get point across without having true and heavy conflict
2) Assumption of personal need over organizational/others’ Gallo, 2016)
3) Problem with honest communication (Whitson, 2013)
– Honesty is not valued or viewed as professionalism
– Fear with career risk when honest opinion is shared

Accountability – Who to Blame for Passive Aggression 
Everyone is to be blamed in this case of passive aggression. Culture or environment is to be blamed as it allows this behavior to lengthen. Communication is key issue that includes: 1-language choice during communication, and 2-Professionalism in questions.

American Psychiatric Association. (1952). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: Author.
Gallo, A. (2016, January 11). How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Colleague. Retrieved January 6, 2017, from
Hopwood, C. J., & Wright, A. G. C. (2012). A Comparison of Passive–Aggressive and Negativistic Personality Disorders. Journal of Personality Assessment, 94(3), 296–303.
Millon, T. (1981). Disorders of personality: DSM–III Axis II. New York, NY: Wiley.
Morin, A. (2015, Dec 06.). 7 Things Passive-Aggressive Employees Do. Retrieved January 6, 2017, from
Whitson, S. (2013, June 12). Why Passive Aggression Thrives in the Workplace. Retrieved January 6, 2017, from