Part Two: Surviving the Passive Aggressive Organisation

My last article on the passive-aggressive boss finished with the sobering thought that some organisations are breeding-grounds for passive-aggressive behaviours.

If your place of work is built on the precepts of indecision, compromise and conformity where people lack the authority or means to speak up, the passive-aggressive resistance will emerge.

Healthy organisations are easy to spot:  managers and staff alike have access to the necessary information to make authoritative decisions; inclusion is encouraged across the board; time is precious and productive; and power-struggles between employees are replaced with cooperation.  People are more concerned with focusing on goals and positive relationships than subscribing to selfish agendas and petty bickering.

Healthy organisations are extremely resilient:  they respond quickly to challenges and recuperate rapidly from those they cannot escape.

Unfortunately, according to Booz Allen Hamilton who conducted a global online survey of 30,000 individuals, most organisations are not resilient. Less than 1 in 5 individuals surveyed described their organisation as resilient.  Passive-aggressive (that quiet but tenacious resistance) received the largest number (almost 30%) of descriptions as being the way their organisations performed.

Of the passive-aggressive, bureaucracies and institutions tended to top the list and are typically the least efficient organisations.  Frustrated aspirations are the curse of large bureaucracies.  People seem unable to accomplish enough to be fully recognised, and drive and ambition are too often replaced by systemic organisational inertia.

Those with initiative wait endlessly for decisions to be made and any action finally taken to progress that great idea/project (sometimes out of frustration) is accompanied by attacks of nervous anxiety for the moment the work is ‘now’ deemed unnecessary and dies a sluggish and miserable death.

Passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace is a serious problem.  But not all is lost:  there are viable strategies for dealing with passive-aggressive bosses and work environments.

Create a Culture of Honesty

In and of itself, an honest culture will not ‘convert’ the passive-aggressive leader nor halt the passive-aggressive organisation, but it will make it more difficult for them to act dishonestly and manipulate others. Manipulation, lies and ambiguity are harder to get away with if the organisation is one of honesty, trust and good intent.

Call the Sin of Omission

Don’t allow a non-response.  Deliberately withholding information that could otherwise empower better decision-making is wrong. Expect contribution and active assertion of ideas.  An introvert must learn to speak more and an extravert must learn to embrace the art of brevity.

Set Boundaries

Very few people set boundaries in life, let alone the workplace.  Loose boundaries are so easily exploited by the passive-aggressive boss. Verbalise and internalise your boundaries so as to be strong in the moment of challenge.  The more you hold firm on what’s reasonable for you and the team, the more you take back and own your personal power.

Make a List:  Stay or Go

Write down all the positives and negatives of your workplace situation:  what you like/don’t like, your strengths, your contributions to the broader team, the work situation on a daily basis.  Be on the lookout for self-insight and discovery.  Put it away and do it again in a couple of months to see if you feel the same way.

You may just discover it’s time to move on to get away from the passive-aggressive boss and/or organisation.  If all possibilities for dealing with the situation have been exhausted, sum up your circumstances and actively pursue other work or career options.

The list making will prove very beneficial in making the decision to the engage in the next career advancement.

Avoid Secrecy and Promote Open Decision-making

Secrecy is very different from privacy.  All information relevant to the task at hand should be disclosed.  Don’t participate in or perpetuate an environment of secrecy.  Speak up and expect the same from others.  Don’t allow hiding behind the veil of ‘confidentiality’ or ‘privacy legislation’; these are overused to excuse secrecy.

Encourage all levels of management to be consistently and constantly inclusive in decision-making and information sharing.  Silence is not your friend – it’s a sign there’s fear of reprisal.

Find Your Voice

Assertiveness is the key to changing the passive-aggressive workplace:  not passivity or aggression, and definitely not passive-aggressive behaviour.  Learn to speak up in an honest and direct way.  Do not surround the contributions you make with soft pillows (being too ‘nice’) so as to be seen as ‘not upsetting someone’.  Your message is valid and you need to own its delivery.  Learn how to ‘speak’ it with confidence in neutral and calm tones with checked and certified facts and managed emotions.

Stand up for yourself.  Self-respect grows from honest and assertive responses to poor behaviour.  Build networks of positive, supportive people, both laterally and vertically.  You are fighting back, and being silenced is no longer an option – having reassuring and compassionate allies is a must.


Transforming the passive-aggressive organisation is impossible without the recognition and engagement of senior leadership teams.  That said, all levels of management can, and do, make a difference.

Becoming assertive verbally and non-verbally enables you to maintain respect and defend your rights without succumbing to the manipulative and controlling behaviours used by the passive-aggressive.

Test your assertiveness