I’ve heard it said that with age, people tend to mellow. I’ve found this to be true to some extent, however I’ve become more intolerant of certain behaviours. Spitting in the street, over using the words ‘basically’ and ‘obviously’ are a couple of things I find irritating. However, at the top of my list of intolerable behaviour is passive-aggression. When people say that they’re ok with something when they’re obviously not, snarky put downs said with a sarcastic smile or sullen silence makes me want to scream. Perhaps I’m too confrontational, but I find this kind of conduct infuriating because, usually, a frank conversation will clear the air and the issue is swiftly resolved. If unsaid resentment festers everything becomes exponentially worse and is blown out of proportion.
The work place is where I’ve experienced the most amount of passive-aggression. I suppose because it’s difficult to be truly authentic in a professional situation. You’re expected to ‘get along’ with colleagues, and that usually entails not being entirely honest. Which is, in a way, fair enough. As much as I have a low tolerance for bullshit, a work environment isn’t a confessional booth, and not the time or place for uncompromising candour. However, when a colleague makes it clear that they dislike you or something you’ve done by dishing out the silent treatment, being evasive or muttering snippy insults under their breath, it creates a toxic atmosphere that’s horrible for everyone.
Another symptom of passive-aggression that drives me bananas is when people manipulate a situation by playing the martyr to get what they want. The conversation might go like this:
‘So where do you want to go for dinner?’
‘Oh, I don’t mind, wherever you want to go.’
‘How about the Thai place?’
(exhausted sigh) ‘Well, if that’s what you really want.’
‘Don’t you fancy Thai food?’
‘It’s fine, (another sigh) I’ll do whatever you want.’
‘It doesn’t seem to be fine.’
‘No really, it’s fine.’
‘Would you rather go for pizza?’
‘Well, yes, that would be better, but only if you really want to.’
At which point I’m ready to tear out my eyeballs and shout ‘Just say what you want!’. Which, of course, scares my potential dinner companion into resentful silence. And so the negative cycle of passive-aggression, provoking active-aggression continues.
Sadly, it’s often women who are more prone to passive-aggression. Little girls are taught that being assertive is to be bossy, yet the same behaviour in a boy is considered spirited and encouraged. Women don’t tend to be as candid as men because it’s been drilled into us from an early age that girls ‘don’t do that kind of thing’. Consequentially, women are less likely to ask for a pay-rise or make appropriate demands in their personal life.
As ever, compassion plays a big part in any conflict resolution. The reality is that a lot of people find blunt, blistering honesty frightening. All too often, children are raised in an environment where it is not safe to speak their minds because they’re anxious about how their parents will react. I say all this with no judgement; I’ve never met a parent who didn’t do their very best.
I wasn’t always so candid; I used to find it very hard to be true to myself and there are still times when I paint on a smile because social convention demands it. I’ve also indulged in my fair share of maddening passive-aggression. However, as an adult, I’ve made a decision to try to be as sincere as possible – it saves a lot of time and emotional energy. I also believe it’s not only possible, but necessary to have a loving confrontation, which is conducted in the interest of strengthening a relationship. My closest friends and I are able to have the tricky conversation, drag everything out in the open and, within a day or two, it’s all forgotten. I would always encourage people to say what they mean, it may be uncomfortable for a moment, but you’ll move on without bitterness and the lingering frustration of not saying what’s on your mind.