As tempting as it may be, don’t stoop to their level.
Bad bosses aren’t just a workplace nuisance. A leader’s manipulative, passive-aggressive, credit-taking and overly-critical behavior can lead to workplace bullying, job dissatisfaction, psychological distress and depression.
While there are many ways to be a bad boss, one of the trickiest for employees to cope with is passive aggression. Here are three strategies to attend to your own emotional and psychological health even when you have a boss who may not be attending to his or hers.
Anticipate and prepare. I coached a client to ask early on, “Do I have all of the information I need to make this decision, or is there information you have that could change my options?” This question forced the boss to either own the decision from the outset or free my client up to make it. Rather than feeling blindsided, limit your boss’ ability to make passive-aggressive choices at critical moments by setting parameters and clarifying expectations in advance of those moments.
Don’t stoop to their level. When your boss employs passive-aggressive behavior, no doubt you’ve been tempted to return the favor. But that doesn’t work. Don’t presume your boss is aware of, and even being intentional with, their behavior. More often, passive aggressiveness is an unconscious response to anxiety or a perceived threat. As best as you can, adopt a compassionate rather than angry posture.
Respectfully call the question. Directly confronting a passive-aggressive boss is rife with risk. There are effective ways to raise your concerns without triggering the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. While it may feel imbalanced, going the extra mile to make the relationship feel safe for your boss can have long-term benefits. Those inclined to employ passive-aggressive behavior tend to do it less when they feel greater degrees of trust with others, so try to be nonjudgmental and matter-of-fact.
It may feel unjust that you have to manage the immature behavior of the person who earns more money than you, and who has undue influence over your future. And on some level, it is.
Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent.