Responding to Passive Aggressive comments

A good way (tho not the only way) to respond to PA comments is to call their bluff. If they’re hinting that you’ve left something undone, ask them straight; “Is there something you wanted me to do?”. If they’re hinting that they’ve been left out, clarify; “You don’t feel left out do you?”. If they insinuating that you’re being a meanie to them, ask them; “Are you ok with this? Is there a problem?”.

That leaves only two paths forward. Either they’ll tell you straight, or they wont.

Unless they’re prepared to tell you straight, you can’t make it your problem. It’s their problem. All you can do is to keep trying to help them share their problem properly, not passively.

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How to identify passive agressive comments

Passive Agressive (PA) comments infer that there is a problem (or that you have a problem) without actually saying that there’s a problem. For example; “My last church never did it this way“, “That might make some people feel left out”, “I suppose that will just have to do”. Depending on the inflection and the tone, they could be perfectly reasonable observations. But you know when they’re not just observations.

I’ve always wanted to make a t-shirt that says “Well at least I’m not passive aggressive”. I think that’s hilarious!

It’s really worth training yourself to recognise these type of comments from others and from yourself. A colleague and I used to play a game “Can you say that in a more passive agressive way?” as a fun way of training oourselves to recognise it.
Recognising it is the first step to resolving it. Otherwise you just walk away from the conversation feeling bad, but not really knowing why.