A co-worker left a note for me recently. It read, “I cleaned up the front counter tonight, I assume we’ll all be helping out with this in the future!” Now I don’t know if “agressivity” is a real word but I do know what my reaction to that note was, indignation. The note was a hard form of a passive aggressive attitude in that it comes so close to forthrightly saying something, but it’s just a glancing blow. If I deconstruct the note there’s a lot of good information there. This person saw a problem and went after it, thats initiative and it’s commendable. She also felt justifiably a little annoyed at having to be the one to clean up a bunch of other adults’ messes. This is the sentiment that she was trying to convey, albeit in a somewhat untactful manner. I imagine when you or I use a passive aggressive “technique” to deal with others it’s intent is to produce a change in the other person’s attitude or behavior with out a messy confrontation. We talk around the issue in the hope that they will “get” what the problem is and do what needs to be done, but I submit to you that in almost every case, even if the desired result is achieved, the passive aggressive approach harms the relationship and causes you to have the same issues time and again. Heres why:
It Causes Resentment
Like I said indignation was my initial response to the note from my co-worker, and taking the time to understand what was under the surface of the aggression didn’t take away the negative feelings. The people we lead will not often take the time to break down what we actually mean and we shouldn’t expect them to. To be blunt, what I’m saying is that we’re only pissing our people off and they will pay us back for it in poor performance and lack of initiative. As indignant as I was at getting the note I’ve left almost that exact same note or said some thing like it in a meeting too many times .
It Causes Confusion
The softer form of passive aggressivity makes rhetorical statements sometimes seemingly to no one. We walk away from the situation feeling as though we’ve said something that was on our mind and leave everyone else wondering what we’re so worked up about. I want to create clarity around standards as a leader, at least I do until someone does something that violates the standard and I might have to have a hard direct conversation with them, then I’ll just make a general statement randomly in an unrelated conversation or send out a memo to everyone about the issue.
By the way, it’s been my experience that the memo technique of correcting one persons behavior by addressing the coaching to everyone only serves to let everyone know that someone messed up, if they don’t already know, and usually let’s them know exactly who that one person is, again, if they don’t already know.
Confusion is a progress killer. While our people are standing around asking each other what the heck is going on they could be doing something that moves the organizational mission forward.
It Compromises Trust
The EURO is the official currency of 19 Eurozone countries, but the official currency of leadership is trust. Passive aggressivity burns trust as kindling in a fire of cowardice. If they resent us and are confused by us why would they trust us?
It Insulates Us From Finding Out We’re Wrong
This is, for me, the reason I use passive aggressivity. I hate being wrong. Can’t you sympathize? The thing of it is this just piles wrong on top of wrong. It’s only wrong to be wrong if you miss the opportunity to find out how wrong you are. Sometimes when I’m admitting I was wrong about something I’ll soften the blow with a bit of a joke. I’ll say, “I guess I was wrong. No big deal, I’ve been wrong before. I remember this one time in 1993…” Sadly, hardly anyone ever laughs but me, yet still I make the joke. Seriously though, how have we robbed ourselves if we’ve intentionally denied ourselves the opportunity to correct course and let our people see us do it!
I normally write about apologetic and philosophical subjects and this is more in the leadership category, but let me bring it around to a general application by saying this: Everything I’ve said applies as much to your marriage or your interaction with a non-believer as it does to leadership. So let’s commit ourselves to being honest, open, and forthright in our dealings with everyone. Let’s leave the sarcasm for more light hearted conversations and give every one the dignity of saying what we mean and meaning what we say. Let’s say the hard things while there’s still time.