Leaders are the keepers of the workplace environment and influence the overall work culture.  The complexity of organizations and the uniqueness of individuals and personalities make managing the workplace challenging.  Leaders need to juggle all sort of things successfully in order to create a healthy workplace.  However, this can be difficult when leaders do not have the necessary skills to maneuver effectively in the workplace.  The personality characteristics of leaders also influence their capacity for leadership and skill development.

The management styles and the personality characteristics of the passive aggressive leader place the work environment at risk for persistent workplace aggression and more often than not, they themselves are aggressors.

Passive aggressiveness refers to avoidance of direct conflict.  The passive aggressive person desires people to like them and their ultimate goal is likability. As such, the passive aggressive person evades confrontation at all costs. Instead of an open altercation and dealing with the issue in the moment, they hold on to the hostility and it manifests later in negative behavior.  The original issue and the bad behavior are not connected.  The total avoidance of disputes is unrealistic in the workplace where conflict is a normal part of the environment. Healthy conflict improves the work culture.

Passive aggressive leaders are chameleons in an effort to avoid conflict and get into the good graces of others. They change their colors depending on who is around. They say what is necessary in all circumstances to appease the person without regard to integrity and truthfulness. Leaders say what they think the person wants to hear in the moment to circumvent conflict. Therefore, they send various messages to different people in an effort to evade trouble. These constant mixed messages cause tension between workers and breaks down trust, which is a vital piece of a healthy work environment.

The passive aggressive leader seem nice to your face, but once you turn your back, they retaliate against their workers whom they see as challenging their authority or who are “troublemakers.” They are known for striking back when you least expect it.  Again, there is no connection made between the original issue and the retaliation.  When confronted about their behavior, the cycle continues because the passive aggressive leader will say anything to avoid conflict. This leaves the target vulnerable because they are once again hearing what they want to hear and the problematic behavior continues.

A passive aggressive leader is very skilled at random acts of kindness and random acts of get backs. This yo-yo effect, of one day the boss is nice and the next they are not, causes a great deal of uncertainty for the worker causing them boundless distress. This type of leadership creates paranoia, tension, and anxiety in the workplace because workers never know what to expect.  This happens with not only the leader, but trickles to other workers as well.  This increases the likelihood that persistent workplace aggression occurs.

The passive aggressive leader is one of the most difficult to work for, the least likely to accept intervention, and one who wreaks havoc in the work environment.  Although the passive aggressive leader is trying to avoid conflict, the reality is that their behaviors and actions cause, support, and enhance persistent workplace aggression.  With intense intervention, the passive aggressive leader can effectively learn the skills to transform the work environment and to improve their leadership abilities.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com, (320) 309-2360, or visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.



a very true post shared by Jan C. Kircher, PhD, MSW Workplace Consultant, these are the worst and the most horrible bosses of all. these are rude and mean too. if only they were nice the work environment would have been much better.


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