Guerrilla warfare is unconventional warfare, hard to anticipate and contain as it operates in the shadows but pops into the the light from time to time. The same is true of passive aggressive behavior within organizations. It is a way of quietly subverting something or someone in the shadows and behind the scenes while portraying an attitude of cooperation. This is why I have elsewhere called the behavior a form of dishonesty. It portrays one thing and actually does another.
Passive aggressive behavior can take many forms. It can include delaying tactics on things that others need to be done, not communicating key pieces of information that others need, being supportive in person and unsupportive behind the scenes with others, ignoring standard processes, not keeping promises, and other behaviors that are meant to prick or hurt an individual or a group that they don't like or have a bone to pick with. But, it is done in the shadows where it is hard for others to hold them accountable.
I once was the target of such an individual who delayed their response, didn't tell me they needed additional information so they could fulfill their obligation and used less than gracious wording in their communications so that it sent a message but was not overtly over the line. The individual obviously meant to send me a message through their actions and I got it loud and clear. It was subtle but effective. I had no desire to further work with that individual and instead dealt with their supervisor and not them (they don't work for me).
Why does this matter? It matters for two reasons. First, passive aggressive individuals are telling you through their behavior that they are not truly with you. In other words you have someone who says they are on the team but in reality they are not. Their heart is not there or they have a bone to pick with leadership but either way they are not truly on your team. You have an obvious lack of alignment.
Second, if you consider the behaviors above, they hurt the work of whatever team they are on by being like sludge in the works. Their lack of active cooperation inevitably gets in the way of what the team or organization is trying to do. It hurts the team and the organization.
How do you deal with passive aggressive individuals? In my experience the first thing to do is to address the unacceptable behaviors when they occur. If there is a pattern of those behaviors, keep track of them and with a passive aggressive individual there will be a pattern. At some point the pattern of behavior can be addressed.
Because this is guerrilla warfare that operates from the shadows. in some cases you simply allow the individual enough rope to hang themselves since ongoing behaviors like this will eventually irritate enough people that you can act on them. You cannot go to motives but you can hold people accountable for their behaviors.
If you suspect you have passive aggressive behaviors going on in your organization, keep an eye on it as it could hurt you, your team or the organization itself.
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