How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

Usually passive aggressive people do what they do because they want do avoid confrontation. The reasons for avoiding confrontation varies. Sometimes it’s because the matter seems too trivial to warrant a direct confrontation and so feels like s/he has no outlet to vent his/her frustration about the matter; or the person is afraid of the repercussions of confrontation; or the person is aware that s/he’s so bad at handling direct confrontation that s/he will make the situation worse (it may also be because the person has a very bad temper and is avoiding have to reveal this awful side to you).

It would be incorrect to assume that the passive aggressive person is the incarnate of evil in the form of a paggro individual.

Often times, it’s because we ourselves are doing something to upset them, but not enough to trigger direct confrontation. So it would help to pause and reflect on what it is that we might be doing to upset them, and try to do less of that.

It may surprise you, but it’s usually the little things that drive people mad. This is especially true when you live with other people, or work with them regularly. Someone might be typing way too loudly, or handle things in a way that upsets them. It’s ok when it’s once or twice. But it does make people get crazy upset to have to endure it repeatedly for days or weeks.

Notice how such things seem so trivial that it feels so petty to bring up the matter? But it’s not petty at all. It’s human nature to get upset over the disruptions or small annoyances that make up our everyday routines. But many people think it’s so petty that they can’t bring themselves to talk about it, and so passive aggressive action is, the only outlet to vent their frustration for those who don’t know how best to deal with such issues.

If you can’t figure out what it is, or if it’s not possible to stop it entirely, then dialogue is important. You yourself must be prepared for what they will tell you, and you must assure that person you will not get mad. All you want to do is to solve a problem and make things better for both parties. You can try saying something like, “Hey, I noticed you seemed rather upset yesterday. And I want to better understand what is upsetting you, and what I can do about it to make it better for you.” Make sure you are mentally prepared to respond in a calm way whatever the answer may be.

I once went on a 3-week work trip with someone who made passive aggressive snide remarks at me almost every day. It upset me a lot and I finally told the person how I felt and that I could not understand why he would behave like this. His response was that we hated how I conducted myself, as he interpreted that it meant I was a certain sort of person which he despised. That was an answer I did not expect, and it did catch be off-guard. But I talked it out with him and tried to explain that I’m not such a person. In the end, the resolution was a sort of compromise: I can’t change myself completely, but at the very least, I would not do certain things that would trigger him. The conversation helped as he stopped making the snide remarks thereafter.

This incident happened 16 years ago, but it stays with me as a vivid memory, as a successful model on how I handle difficult situations with people, especially passive aggressive people. Now, as with all things with life, use your own discretion on how you might use the ideas I share here, and assess for yourselw how you might want to adapt to your own unique situation.

Reflections Along the Singapore-Malaysia Railway Tracks

The railway tracks functions very well as a metaphor for a person’s life.


Sometimes, we have to walk the journey alone. But that’s ok because we’re surrounded by the beautiful blue sky.



But sometimes, the journey of life can be very scary – gloomy, even. At times, we have no choice but to walk through these moments of darkness – alone.



There are times where the darkness of the moment overwhelms us. Sometimes, we can’t help but feel severely burdened by the pain of walking alone.



Some unfortunately lose their soles because of this.



Jean-Paul Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.” But when we suffer from such dark moments of loneliness, we become our own hell. There’s no one to get in our way. There’s no one to annoy us. And yet, we feel so trapped, so imprisoned. It is as if our whole wings have been clipped, and our feet chained to the ground. In moments like these, we begin to crave for freedom like never before.



But what kind of freedom do we really need? Is it the freedom to go off the tracks? Or is it the freedom to touch the sky?



The darkness can be confusing. We know we want freedom, and yet we often don’t understand what it is that we truly need. And so, off we go chasing after a freedom which may not necessarily be the answer to our darkness.



But what does it profit a man to gain the world, but to lose his sole?



The greatest freedom comes when we begin to open our eyes to realise the many people – friends and strangers who are not yet friends – who are and have been walking along-side with us in such moments of darkness.



In such moments, the darkness doesn’t seem so dark anymore. When we begin to accept their friendship and help, the journey becomes more pleasant. The journey will still be rocky, but at the very least, we’re surrounded by fellow companions who are on the same journey. Soon enough, with their help, we find ourselves reaching the end of the tunnel, back out into the light.



Successfully perservering through such moments is like crossing over a bridge. It can be scary, but we can rest assured by the fact that we have friends waiting for us at the other end of the bridge.



At every moment of our lives, there is always at least one friend who accompanies us on our journey – whether we realise it or not.



As we continue walking on this journey of life, we’ll eventually meet the love of our life.



And at that beautiful moment of marriage, two tracks converge into one. But marriage isn’t just a merger of two lives. It brings together many many more! Friends and family from both tracks begin to walk along with us on that single track, chatting with us, annoying us, cheering us, working with us.



I think it’s important for us to always remember that the journey of life is always rocky. The ground is never gentle and smooth.



But no matter what, there’s always a beautiful blue sky covering us, watching over us. It’s a beauty that’s always there, but we rarely notice it. The secret of life is to always take a step back from the mad frenzy of life, look up, and contemplate the sky’s subtle beauty.