My Boss is Passive -Aggressive

November 27, 2017

My Boss is Passive -Aggressive

This can be the toughest boss to deal with. He may present as a great person—easy-going, a people-pleaser, even. Except that you’re never quite sure where you stand with him. It’s rather like trying to catch a cloud. Once you think you have your arms around it, it kind of disappears.

What it is

A passive –aggressive boss is likely to:

  • Be unclear on what he wants
  • Keep information you need to himself
  • Keep reminding you of errors you made eons ago
  • Imply criticism but deny it when asked to clarify

What it looks like

Tony (your boss): I noticed you took off yesterday afternoon.
You: Yes, I thought you said it was okay.
Tony: But I really needed to talk to you.
You: Sorry. But if you texted me, I could have gotten back to you.
Tony: No, it was more of a discussion than a text.
You: So, maybe it wasn’t a good afternoon to be out of the office.
Tony: No, no, it’s fine. We all need down time, right?

What to do

Clearly, it isn’t fine but you’ll never get him to admit it. Tony possibly didn’t want to give you that afternoon off but felt he couldn’t say no. Therefore, there was an emergency which could only be handled in person by you.

Confronting this kind of boss almost never works. You won’t get an honest answer (e.g. Yeah, I realized I needed you after all) and he may even resent you for raising the issue. Although you’ll never know that either!

You might consider documenting all your conversations but that is the office equivalent of the first salvo over the bow. I don’t think you can ‘win’ this one but you might be able to keep it on an even keel.

An example

Let’s return to the issue above, but when you are asking for the time off.

You: Tony, could I have Friday afternoon off? I want to get a jump on the traffic.  
Tony: Ah, well, I guess so. Normally, you’d leave it at that. But the hesitation and wishy-washy words should be alarm bells.
You: I mean, I’ve got the Tucker account under control and Mendez won’t heat up until next week. Give him the opportunity to raise an objection.
Tony: Oh, good. You’re sure the Tucker account is good? This may be the reason for the hesitation.
You: Oh, yeah. Unless you’re worried about the outstanding balance. I know it’s counter-intuitive but raise any objections you think he might have.
Tony: Well, yes, I wondered about that.  
You: I’ve sent a reminder but Bonnie’s already left for the weekend so it won’t be actioned until Monday.  
Tony: Oh, that’s good. I know you should be able to end it there but keep going a little longer.
You: And of course, there’s the continuing issue with the accounting error but Bonnie’s sent that to her own people. They won’t get back to her for a couple of weeks.  
Tony: Oh, good. Give him one more out.
You: Anything else I should be taking care of?  
Tony: No, sounds like you’ve got it covered. Have a good weekend.  

That last question allows Tony to raise any undercover reasons he is balking. It is tiring, I know, to have to be so detailed for a half-day off, but if your objective is to get along with your passive- aggressive boss, you might need to do it.

Next post: The power-tripping boss.

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