Hope For Tomorrow Counseling

Normal vs. Healthy Communication (Part 3 of 4): Passive-Aggressive Communication

Jennifer Owen, LPC, NCC

Welcome back to our blog series discussing normal vs. healthy communication. We are almost to the finish line! Make sure to get caught up on our other two “normal” communication styles: passive communication and aggressive communication

All caught up? Great! Let’s dive into the next “normal” communication style, passive-aggressive communication. 

The Passive-Aggressive Communicator

As you can imagine by the name, passive-aggressive communication takes pieces of both passive communication and aggressive communication and combines them together. Passive-aggressive communicators do not address problems directly; however, their actions are often inadvertently directed at the person that they are upset with in order to “get back at them”. Similar to passive communicators, they may pretend that everything is okay when it actually isn’t. Instead of dismissing their feelings (like passive communications), they will talk behind people’s backs or even give someone the silent treatment. Passive-aggressive communicators tend to be sarcastic. They will allow their anger to fester and grow which makes it easier for them to hold a grudge. These communicators often do small things to annoy, bother, or hurt the person that they are in conflict with (vengeful attitude). 

Here are some examples of passive-aggressive communication:

  • Pouting or sulking
  • Being sarcastic
  • Talking behind someone’s back
  • Spreading rumors/gossiping
  • Appearing passive but subtly acting out in anger
  • Avoiding conversations
  • Has a limited consideration of the rights, needs, and/or feelings of others
  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Vengeful or sabotaging efforts
  • Attempt to punish others by withholding affection
  • Procrastinate 
  • Pretend like everything is fine/okay when it is not
  • Stop talking to people when angry at them
  • Others will know that the passive-aggressive communicator is angry at them but will not know why
  • “Don’t get mad, get even” mantality 
  • Suspicious/distrustful of others
  • Let’s anger fester (bitterness)
  • Holds a grudge
  • When upset, they refuse to make eye contact with others
  • Purposely do things that will annoy someone they are upset with
  • Struggles to express feelings
  • Might say “yes” to a request from someone they are upset with but not follow through with that agreement

  Maybe this sounds like you. If so, you are probably feeling the urge to stop reading this blog and be angry with me about it for the next few days. Just as we have said before, this is normal! However, just because this communication is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is “healthy”

I hope this list (and the other lists provided in the previous blogs) helped you to reevaluate your current communication habits. I hope that these lists help you to recognize that your normal communication styles are not the best way to achieve thriving and healthy relationships with the people around you. 

Just like we did with the other communication styles, here are some examples of ways to change your normal, passive-aggressive communication to healthy communication:

  • Pay attention to your feelings and express them directly and honestly
  • Admit when you are not doing okay
  • Avoid “getting even”
  • Practice giving others grace
  • Avoid a judgemental and condescending attitude
  • Practice patience and understanding
  • Avoid gossip and spreading rumors
  • Practice good eye contact
  • Avoid sarcasm
  • Follow through with promises that you have made to others

Although this is a fairly short list, it takes a lot of time and practice to change those normal passive-aggressive behaviors to healthier ones. Just as you practice giving grace and patience to others, give yourself some grace too. 

Come back next time for our fourth and final blog of this series where we discuss the healthiest style of communication.  


(2003) Strategies for anger management. Wellness Reproductions and Publishing. 

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