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5 Signs of Passive-Aggressive Management: Why It Kills Employee Motivation and How to Deal

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Frustrated at work

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We’ve all been there. Somehow, through a loophole in the karmic system of workplace balance and order, your boss has landed a position he or she just doesn’t seem to deserve or know how to handle with confidence, and, unfortunately for you, they know it.

This is when employees often come across one of the most difficult bosses to deal with – the passive-aggressive manager. Passive-aggressive management stems from that person’s insecurity in his position and ability to maintain authority, or simply insecurity in himself.

Unfortunately, employees can smell that type in ineptitude all the way from that corner office. Think, The Office; either the original or American version will do.

But how do you know if you really have a passive-aggressive boss? And what’s the best way to deal with it?

If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may have some managerial passive-aggression on your hands, and unless that manager makes some immediate changes, he or she will be on the fast track to losing employee respect and dampening motivation.

Read on for the warnings signs of passive aggressive management and the best way to deal with it in the workplace:

1. There’s no direct critique of work, good or bad

The passive aggressive manager will do his or her best to avoid giving any kind of direct critique of your job performance. Employees often receive little to no feedback, and no praise or promotion for excellent performance or exceptional talent. Basically, with this type of manager, you never know where you stand. Talk about bad for morale.

How to deal:

If your boss never gives critiques, or does so in a way that still leaves you feeling unclear about where you stand, ask directly about your performance. Putting her on the spot with a direct question rather than playing her game might help her give you feedback that’s actually valuable.

Doesn’t work? Put your head down and do the best possible job you can.

2. Rules are vague or unnecessary

When this manager puts rules or directions in place, they give them in the form of passive statements. Rather than complete and explicit dos and don’ts for employees, this manager gives a vague sets of guidelines, derived from a formula that only she knows. If anyone begins to stray from the picture she has in her head, she becomes upset, possibly invoking new, stricter rules that are even more unnecessary or unclear.

How to deal:

As an employee, this can be a difficult to handle. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, your boss is your boss. He or she gets to make the rules, and it’s your job to follow them. If you want no hassles, simply do what they ask to the best of your ability.

Or, if the rules are totally out of control, try to figure out your boss’ motivation. Maybe it’s not that he really cares about how long your lunch break takes; he actually cares about how it looks to other employees and their superiors. Figure out what line your boss wants you to toe, and do your best to toe it.

3. Pickiness about the wrong things

This is a surefire sign of mismanagement if there ever was one. If you have a boss who never comments on the more important issues, such as how your work contributes to the overall goals of your company or how your production quality looks compared to some of the best employees, and instead constantly finds tiny details to pick at, he could very well be insecure about his position. Such a strong focus on things that matter least is confusing for employees and leaves you second-guessing your work and your value.

How to deal:

If this happens once in awhile, just let it go. But if it’s a constant issue, the next time your boss picks at something small, try this approach: Acknowledge the complaint fairly, then ask how to best tailor the current project to ultimate goals. Or ask for formal documentation of the errors you’re making, so you can keep track and improve. No matter what you do, tread lightly.

4. Absence of professional development and sharing of expertise

A great leader wants to help everyone improve. An insecure leader secretly fears losing her position to someone else and avoids sharing what she knows at all costs. Passive-aggressive managers are not comfortable enough with their expertise to share their experience with their employees, which means little training for new employees and no professional development or collaboration for employees already working in the company.

How to deal:

This can be a pretty depressing environment to be a part of, if you like to learn or have career goals. (And don’t we all?) The best way to deal is to sidestep your boss altogether. There are plenty of ways to learn from those around you. Your co-workers probably have ranges of knowledge that you don’t, and vice versa. If your boss is holding you back from expanding your career (maybe without even knowing it), it’s time to start looking elsewhere for professional development, and, ultimately, figure out how to leave both your boss and position behind.

5. Avoids valuable interaction with co-workers

A great manager knows how to dance the fine line between maintaining a position of authority while still having genuine interactions with employees. The passive aggressive manager, on the other hand, cannot let down his guard. Although she wishes strongly to be liked by employees, often playing the role of the joker or comedian, she feels she must place a wall between herself and subordinates to avoid genuine interaction. This manager builds up the wrong types of distances between himself and co-workers. She seems friendly and open one moment, then retreats the next.

How to deal:

Keep your distance as much as possible. It’s obvious your boss wants to draw a line between himself and his employees. Simply focus on the positive aspects of your work environment, without putting much stake in how your boss acts from one moment to the next, and focus on relationships with your coworkers instead.

Nadia Jones blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving and movie-related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Monica Sales

    This list hits the nail on the head!

    • http://jennifermnewell.com Jennifer Newell

      It really does. I’ve seen it before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=760070542 Nadia Gee

    woweee

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1808235553 Cametta Hytche

    Good Info

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713595141 Shawn Frazier

    I need to share this w/ some people….

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584816078 Darriane DeeDee Martin

      Where the hell is the print button?!?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1593820704 Dee MeSchelle

    Very good info to share. So here you go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=54500843 Timothy State

    Paula Bryn Benson There is a lot to be learned from this article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=54500843 Timothy State

      @[1450053811:2048:Paula Bryn Benson] I’ve emailed you links to some other articles, too. Sent from mer personal account. If you don’t get them, let me know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1450053811 Paula Bryn Benson

      Got them…including the scary pic….thanks, I love you for thinking of me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000273379711 Gerald Koransky

    Wow! I just read this article and have to believe the author, Nadia Jones, at some point in time worked at Chubb Headquarters in Warren, NJ. Based on my experience I would estimate that 70% of management there exhibits this type of behavior and management style.

  • myparade

    Pussy footing around anything is dangerous. Hitting the nail on the head is getting your boss by themselves and stating some constructive criticism. I had a manager at walmart who just couldnt treat employees properly he was reported to the store manager and sent to management school or you loose your job. Those days are over of bad management. If you follow that it calls for everyday stress. Professionalism is key. To this day he asks me to be his employee. Growth in the company is key. Its not about any individual. Growth…..

  • R.S.

    Awesome article and sound advice. This article was a big help! Thank you for posting.

  • http://www.righthook38.com righthook38

    Wow…these types are all over my office. The worst offender is notorious for making a new blanket rule for everyone, in order to deal with the offense of one employee. Why not just address the employee, instead of putting undue burden on the entire group? Also has no interest in empowering employees, gives no feedback, never addresses staff directly (mass email only), picks on the hardest workers while giving the lazies a pass, the list goes on. How this person became a manager is beyond me….

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