April 2010

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."  - Benjamin Franklin

In January I asked for people to share their communication problems. One of my readers said that passive-aggressive behavior has become common throughout his workplace. He is concerned that communication is suffering because of this problem.

Dealing with people who exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies can be daunting. There is little that you can do to change their behavior. When you have to deal with difficult people, it's hard to remember that the only person you have any significant control over is yourself. Managing your own reaction to the actions of others takes dedication and constant vigilance. Here are a few tips:

  • Don't let the behavior get to you. This is probably the most difficult step. Monitor your reactions and bring yourself under control. Remember your mother's advice to count to ten before reacting. (smile) For some people who act this way, their payoff is your negative reaction. Don't let them get that satisfaction.

  • If "humorous" insults are directed at you, confront the behavior and ask if the person is angry at you. More than likely, the person will deny any anger. Follow up with a statement that follows this pattern - "When you say ___________, it makes it difficult for us to communicate. It would help if you would be more direct in your comments." Don't assign any harmful intent. Just describe the behavior and the result.

  • Ask the person to share suggestions for improvement. Open up communication when you can. Let the person know that you value his or her ideas. Remember that people who exhibit this behavior usually have a problem expressing themselves.They usually don't feel safe stating their opinions directly.

  • We've all been in situations where a coworker has sighed audibly, or pouted for an extensive period of time, and we have asked, "What's wrong?"  when this happens if the coworker's response is "Nothing", end the discussion by saying, "Okay." Don't continue to push the person for a reason.

  • Watch the actions of the person, and do not rely on his or her words. Make a Plan B if the person's actions have proven that he or she cannot be trusted.

Remember that you are the only person you have control over. Accept the situation for what it is and ask yourself what you need to do to stop reacting to behavior that is not productive. Ensure that you are direct in your own communication so the passive-aggressive behavior does not become contagious.

What is your major communication problem? Are there particular types of difficult people you encounter? Let me know and I'll discuss in a future newsletter.  

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Cliff Taylor won last month's puzzle. He was the first of many of you who came up with a way to use only +, -, *, /  to make six 9s equal 100. Here are two of the solutions I received:
9*9 +9/9 +9+9
99 + 99/99

This month,
what do the words "COOKBOOK", "DECIDED", AND "EXCEEDED" have in common?
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