A predominance of passive-aggressive responses to organizational conflicts indicates that people inside an organization are competent at depression, apathy, excuse making, (otherwise known as playing the “blame game”) and navigating the gossip/rumor mill.
Passive-aggressiveness as a mode of addressing conflict “fits” into a competency model, because the people engaged in that response mode are able to effectively mitigate the hazards of responsibility, accountability, risk taking, and positive confrontation. By the way, the “designated” person who is competent in passive-aggressive responsiveness is typically very entrenched in the organization and serves as the vital glue binding together other modes of addressing conflict, either in opposition to itself, or in support of itself.
There’s levels to this, of course:
- The novice passive-aggressive mode of response is characterized by mild complaining or by demonstrating a minimal lack of task oriented motivation among people in the organization.
- The advanced beginner mode of response is characterized by people initiating rumors and gossip and then claiming not to be the source of such information or acting in such a way as to deflect examination.
- The competent practitioner mode of passive-aggressive response is characterized by full-fledged defeatism, expressions of disbelief at organizational announcements meant to be uplifting and positive, and a general sense of pessimism.
- The proficient performer mode of passive-aggressive response is characterized by those rare individuals in an organization, sometimes described by others as “black holes,” which curiously enough, no supervisor can remove due to their seniority or positional authority in the organization.
- The expert mode of passive aggressive response is characterized by those individuals who rarely show up for team/organizational functions, contribute little to the forward momentum of an organization, and yet somehow still get compensated (either through money or goodwill) for the little work they actually do.
The key to success in developing passive-aggressiveness in the competency model is that people in organizations who are allowed to ascend to the highest levels of competency in this mode, often have their behavior characterized by others as bullying, manipulative, conflict prone, and coercive. Yet bosses and supervisors are continually placed in positions over them, with little change in the individual or the organization’s response to the individual.
The thing is, passive-aggressiveness as a response to unresolved organizational conflicts is based in one thing only: fear. Fear of choosing something different; fear of changing the status quo; fear of not accomplishing/accomplishing organizational goals.
Who carries the most fear in your organization?
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com