Less Passive Aggression

There’s a vibe in editing of “fuck passive voice!” Let’s take that to “fuck passive aggression!”

If there was a theme in my 2012, it was “Passive aggression kills relationships.” So it feels appropriate to talk about that in what I want in my 2013. There are people who wield passive aggression and airs of hostility without direct confrontation like cudgels. They tend to get what they want…barely, and grow resentful that it’s just barely, and because there’s no direct communication, the cycle perpetuates.

At least, until it comes to a head and friendships & working relationships are severed.

Join me in removing passive aggression from your working life:

  • If someone’s only engaging difficult issues with you via asynchronous text (like email, Facebook, or the classic post-it note), respond in a better medium. Being able to talk in real-time helps identify problem issues sooner, rather than having them fester. And if you can use voice communication, then you hear the other’s tone rather than assume it. Of course, video or face-to-face would be even better for difficult issues.
  • Don’t post such indirect messages on public feeds (like Twitter of Facebook) having to do with people you work with. So you’ve got a writer who’s late? There is no percentage in posting something like “Man, why do people not understand what ‘deadline’ means?” If the people you’re passive-aggressively posting about sees it, does he really have a strong incentive to do good work for you?
    The answer is: no. There’s no special reason to do quality work for people who bring hostility.
  • Try to bring a brighter edge to your communication, and maybe it’ll help others either think to be better people or just overall improve mood.
  • If there’s no solution — if talking doesn’t help and if the hostility just increases over time — that’s a toxic relationship. Quit or fire that person; don’t tolerate such people in your life. Those people thrive on such tolerance and abuse it.

That last point bears a special mention. Everyone will be passive aggressive on occasion. Shit happens. Don’t can someone for a slip-up. But if you’re in a cycle, stop it somehow. I’ve seen people cry, shout, and rage-quit because of such shitty treatment. Don’t let yourself be in that situation.

And for those who cause it: if you want to keep good people in your employ, find functional ways of dealing with people — otherwise, you’re either going to cause them to leave or they’ll stick around have do the barely amount of quality work they can get away with.[1]

– Ryan

[1] Which is to say, my life as a government worker.


6 Responses to Less Passive Aggression

  1. Since there’s a way in which this post is passive aggressive (as a sideways attack on whoever abused you in 2012), could you talk about that a little? I don’t think it’s deliberately passive aggressive and I think that’s what’s interesting about this behaviour — I doubt that the perps really understand that that’s what’s going on. And it’s really really easy to do (especially on Twitter, which seems to thrive on crypticism and back-door begging for explanations).

    Great post, though — these are essential rules for anyone dealing with anyone else professionally or personally. I will certainly be taking some of them to heart. The ones I don’t already do, and I’m embarrassed to find a couple in the list.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      The risk of talking about passive aggression in general is that it’ll be accused of being passive aggressive. That’s not my intent (and some of the above happened to others I’ve talked with rather than directly to me), but I was conscious that it would probably be read as such. But for specific cases involving me, I’d rather not say. That goes from being a passive-aggressive asshole into being a full-on cockbite, and no one benefits from that.

      2012 was also a year where I did the same thing to others, and that also killed relationships. I was not just a victim (though as I was speaking in generalities, I see now that it sounds like I just was).

      To be explicit, this is not the case at Paizo. If it was, I wouldn’t have posted this now. :D

      Now, we’ll all fuck up from time to time, and I do find myself occasionally slipping into that with people I no longer work with (and in that regard I’m trying to be a better person). But the point of this post is to spell out places where we might be shitty to one another in ways that will be down the line detrimental and irredeemable. And it serves as a way for others to gut-check me. (“Hey, Mr. Don’t-Be-Passive-Aggressive, read your own post.”) ;)

      – Ryan

  2. JDCorley says:

    Broadcast media like Twitter/Facebook (and they are broadcast no matter how few people follow you) are not a good way to deal with one on one communication AT ALL.

    Conversely, as I’ve always said “if it ain’t about you it ain’t about you”. Sometimes I tweet something and people go “AGH IS THAT ABOUT ME”.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thing is, sometimes it is about you.

      For instance, imagine emailing someone with “Shit, okay, my writers’ have run into a delay. Here’s the sitch, and I can’t make this deadline.” Then the publisher responds with “Okay, I’ll talk with you later about this, I can’t talk now.” and nearly immediately after that tweets “Why can’t people hit their damned deadlines?”

      You know they’re talking about you. That situation creates anxiety, and anxiety leads to really shitty end results. It’s unnecessary bullshit. It’s toxic. It’s unprofessional. There is not a damned bit of good coming from that.

      And even when it isn’t about you, watching someone you work with be passive aggressive all the time about others can still get edge-putting, in the “great, that’s the sort of person I have to deal with” sense. You have to consider when they’re going to be that person to you.

      – Ryan

  3. JDCorley says:

    It definitely is sometimes about you; that’s why the first principle, that broadcast is bad for one-on-one communication, has to go hand in hand with the second.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I agree. Though broadcast is often used to vent, and that’s like venting at the water cooler when the folks you’re venting about are clearly in earshot.

      Without the advantage of being able to punch the other guy and at least making it active-aggressive.* ;)

      – Ryan

      *Kids: don’t punch people.