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Do You Have A Passive-Aggressive Boss?

Updated on November 20, 2013

Do These Situations Sound Familiar?

You just landed your dream job. So everything's great, right? Not necessarily. It's possible there's one problem you didn't count on: a passive-aggressive boss. The World English Dictionary defines the term "passive-aggressive" as "of or relating to a personality that harbours aggressive emotions while behaving in a calm or detached manner." In other words, your boss is perfectly nice to you on the surface, but when you least expected it, BAM! he launches an attack. Problem is, since he is not openly berating you, you may not even realize you are under attack - until it's too late.

1) She Gives You Vague Looks Of Disapproval. A facial expression is a subjective thing - and easily deniable. If you feel your boss is looking at you disapprovingly, you may in fact be right. But if you say anything, you can bet she'll never admit it. This leaves you feeling even more foolish than before.

2) He Refrains From Giving Constructive Criticism, Then lambasts You To His Superior. What's real bad about this one is that the big boss will likely assume that your boss already addressed this with you and that you still didn't correct it - making you look doubly incompetent.

3) She Praises Your Predecessor/Coworker Often, Especially In Front Of Others. It's hard to complain about this to your boss without looking bad. So she gets to compare you negatively to others, simply by not mentioning you in her sentence.

4) He Gives Your Work To A Coworker To Edit. Not only is he letting you know your work is not up to snuff, he's letting someone else know, too. And, of course, he's sending the message that he doesn't trust you to fix it yourself.

5) She Ignores You. For one thing, it communicates her disapproval of the job you're doing. It also serves to make your boss unapproachable, so that when you need her help, you are less likely to ask for it, causing your work to suffer further.

6) He "Jokingly" Puts You Down In Front Of Others. When you say something to him, all your boss has to say is, "I was just kidding!" So now you look foolish in front of the whole office and also are branded as having no sense of humor.

7) She Takes No Action When A Subordinate Is Disrespectful to you. Your boss is also your subordinate's boss. Inaction in this situation gives the employee the green light to continue treating you this way, likely causing both of your work performances to suffer.

8) He Withholds Vital Training Information From You. When you then screw up, he plays dumb saying something like: "I thought you already knew that" (now you feel stupid) or "Everybody else knows that" (now you feel like the stupidest person in the office).

9) She Seems To Abruptly Stop Conversations Whenever You Appear. Again, this is not something you can prove. If you bring it up, she will tell you you're being paranoid. Even if the conversation was not about you at all, it may as well have been, because the effect is the same: You'll feel that she doesn't like you and/or your work, and that others know it.

10) He Holds You, And No One Else, To Stringent "By-The-Book" Standards - Even When Unrealistic. Most workplaces have unwritten rules about when, and to what level of specificity, the rules are enforced. The problem arises when your boss holds you to the letter of the law, but not your coworkers. You don't have a leg to stand on when your boss is chewing you out, because a rule is something quantifiable he can point to. Once again, if you point out that others have done the same thing you did, you come out looking like a "snitch".

What to do? Human Resources may or may not be helpful; unfortunately there is no guarantee they will ultimately take your side. Speak to someone with a lot of experience in workplaces, preferably not from your office. You don't want to act rashly. You also don't want to stay where you are consistently mistreated. Time, good counsel, and thoughtful analysis of your situation will, hopefully, lead you in the right direction


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