The Difference Between Active and Passive Aggression in Workplace Bullying
Some workplace bullies use obvious, direct aggression to threaten the people they target. Other bullies employ more indirect, passive aggression. What are the differences between these two methods of displaying anger?
Bullies who use active aggression are obvious in their expressions of their emotion. They intimidate and coerce their targets in a show of clear, observable, physical aggression. They may display their aggression through verbal and / or non-verbal methods, employing behaviours such as:
- Glaring at their target.
- Rolling their eyes at them.
- Shaking their head or tutting when their target speaks.
- Stomping up to their target with a contemptuous expression on their face.
- Speaking to their target in an openly irate and rude way.
Each of these behaviours is designed to place the target on the back foot, in the hope that they won’t know what to do in the face of such obvious aggression. Many targets become frightened to push back against openly abusive displays of anger such as these, and others would like to but don’t know how to handle such aggressive tactics. The bully hopes that by being so overtly aggressive they can get the upper hand and create a bullying dynamic in their relationship with the target. They hope that, having successfully coerced them this time round, they will be able to use similar behaviour in the future, and that they can remain in control of interactions between the two of them.
Bullies who use passive aggression may actually feel just as aggressive as those who use overt anger as a method of control. The difference is that their method of expressing their emotion is more subtle and indirect. For instance, they may:
- Make insulting comments with a smile, in an attempt to patronise their target.
- Only oppose the viewpoint of the target, but do so using an understated and apparently reasonable tone.
- Use the influence available to them to ensure that proposals or plans put forward by the target are rejected or become subject to heated debate, not because those plans are unreasonable or ill-thought out, but simple to thwart the target’s wishes.
- Undermine the target’s reputation behind their back by inventing slanders about them that are put forward with such apparent innocence that they are widely believed.
It is important to recognise the tactics of active or passive aggression for what they are: tactics designed to unsettle, coerce and intimidate the target. Learning what to say and do to send back a clear message to a bully who uses these methods that their tactic hasn’t prevailed – hasn’t caused the target to doubt themselves or question their own competence - will give even a skilled the bully pause for thought, and will be self-protective for the target.
Learning how to confront bullying behaviour safely and skilfully is a key goal for people vulnerable to attack. Develop your skills by:
- Accessing free downloads on how to recover from and combat workplace bullying www.oadeassociates.com/downloads
- Reading my award-winning bestseller Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bully-Proof and Regain Control of Your Life for input on how to alter the bullying dynamic in your favour at the time of an attack, and how to regain your self-belief and self-confidence after a successful campaign.
- Reading my new book Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive for input on how to retain your dignity when you are attacked in a team situation, stand up for team colleague who is being bullied in front of others, prevent a bully from controlling your team, and how to develop a bully-proof mindset.