Every day we encounter passive aggressive behaviors at work or in our lives. The impact of these behaviors can range from annoying or disappointing to catastrophic.  The simplest form of passive aggressive behavior at work is what we call “polite dissent.” However, the most severe type of passive aggressive behaviors are covert, malicious actions intent on sabotaging individuals, teams, or businesses. At the ultimate extreme, passive aggressive behaviors can bring nations and its leaders to an end.

Our CDR Risk Assessment is based on inherent risk behaviors of “normal” personality and measures this trait identified as “False Advocate.”  Last year I wrote an article about the “The Five Faces of the False Advocate” in which I catalogued, in order of severity, the five stages of these passive aggressive type behaviors and their identifying characteristics at work.

Sadly, many would agree that today’s culture tolerates, and even endorses, more and more harmful behaviors that should not be condoned.  Just look at the nasty, vile attacks that occur every day on social media, during political discourse, by media outlets, and coming from the entertainment industry.  In similar fashion, the American Psychiatric Association(APA), decided to eliminate the clinical diagnostic personality disorder of “Passive Aggressive” behaviors from DSM Classification because these dysfunctional behaviors are becoming so commonplace in society.

Neville Osrin, a UK based business psychologist who has used CDR Assessments for nearly two decades wrote to me,

Think, for a moment, about government agencies charged with covert spying and undercover activities. Having traits as a False Advocate is likely a common risk shared by many.  However, how do their organizations assure that this risk behavior does not turn against their own goals?  Think about politicians and many of the “dirty,” behind the scenes activities that turn the stomachs of voters. Think of trial attorneys who frequently hide their true intent and artfully conceal the truth to win their cases.  Obviously, having the ability to hide one’s true thoughts and intentions can be valuable in some professions.   In most, however, it is detrimental and erodes trust.

Most organizations we work with rely on building trust and transparency.

Finding out that an employee is

  • Proving trade secrets to competitors
  • Bad mouthing leadership to customers
  • Agreeing to a course of action, then doing the exact opposite behind the scenes
  • Frequently hosting, after the fact, hallway meetings to undermine agreements
  • Spreading gossip to hurt colleagues

can damage or potentially destroy, success.

At the workplace, it is important to identify all human based risks, particularly the False Advocate trait.  I disagree with the APA that the prevalence of a bad behavior makes it something that is acceptable.  Prevalence or high frequency does not suddenly turn a bad behavior into a good behavior.  To show how ridiculous this contention is, think of the crime of murder.  No matter how frequent murder might become – it is never good or acceptable.  Obviously, passive aggressive behaviors are not in the league of murder, but they can be highly destructive to people and organizations.

We should not accept toxic behaviors or inappropriate actions that hurt performance, people, and relationships just because they flourish in our organizations.

We need to:

  • Identify risk behavior tendencies in leaders and employees with accurate tools,
  • Engage talent development specialists and executive coaches to design and implement risk-focused development initiatives
  • Help employees learn how to recognize and prevent or neutralize their risk behaviors, and then,
  • Hold employees and leaders accountable.

When coaching those with traits as False Advocates, the most important point is to help them understand that their silence is what gets them into trouble.  Their silence implies agreement to others.  While their lips are not moving, inside their head they are actively disagreeing. Their silence sends misleading messages.

To understand more about passive aggressive behaviors at work, you may want to read “The Five Faces of the False Advocate” article which describes these five levels of behaviors by descending degree of negative impact*:
  1. Polite Dissenter / Victim or Martyr
  2. Time Hoarder/ Procrastinator
  3. Closet Controller / Covert Resister
  4. Back Stabber / Negative Politician
  5. Stealth Saboteur

For organizations, holding leaders and individuals accountable for their unacceptable or offensive behaviors is a must.  Just because, we as humans, all have our own assorted array of inherent risk factors does not give us permission to exhibit inappropriate or toxic behaviors.  Accountability is essential.

The largest and first hurdle to keeping risks in check, including passive aggressive behaviors, is knowing what they are.  Organizations that fail to identify individual risks will continue to experience the costly performance tolls and cultural decay of risks running amok.

For more information about the False Advocate risk factor and the CDR Risk Assessment, please contact us at cdrinfo@cdrassessmentgroup.com