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Difficult Characters in the Workplace

Updated on November 11, 2015

Identifying Passive/ Aggressive Bosses And Dealing With Them

A passive aggressive boss can be really hard to deal with. Here we look at how to identify them and then deal with the situation professionally.

In any professional role you're likely to be excellent at communication, which is why, if you have come into contact with a passive aggressive boss it is likely to have caught you off guard. In the grownup and professional world of business, you just wouldn't expect someone to be behaving in this way, but they do, and if you're reading this article, I suspect you might already know that.

Perhaps they sulk, procrastinate and send emails or messages with an undertone. Maybe they agree to help you with something, then they don't, and you kind of get the feeling they have been looking to get you in trouble with a more senior boss.

Perhaps they work in a semi-manipulative way, that you can't quite put your finger on. Here are a few signs you have a passive aggressive boss:

  • Your boss takes complete credit for the project successes making you and your team feel rubbish
  • Your boss micromanages your project and continues to keep changing the guidelines or directions of the project
  • Your boss withholds information you need to do well on the project
  • Your boss agrees to a meeting and either shows up late or doesn't show up at all
  • Your boss undermines you in front of your team
  • Your boss criticises you in public
  • Your boss withholds praise for you

If these seem familiar, unfortunately you appear to have a passive-aggressive boss.

The cause of the passive aggressive behaviour is complex, all you need to worry about is how you're going to work with this person because it can be stressful, difficult and at times, really upsetting, no matter how strong you are. People as manipulative as this can make you feel really down, and think your experience, authority, passion and skills count for nothing.

Here Are A Few Ways To Deal With A Passive-Aggressive Boss:

Check It Is Not You

First things first, make sure it isn't you that is the passive-aggressive one. It can be easy to point the finger at someone else when really it is your behaviour triggering theirs. Truly great people know how to self reflect.

Don't Lose It

It can be really easy to start gossiping, obsessing and even reflecting the behaviour of your boss, none of which are going to help you. Keep your head down, maintain professionalism and focus on your team.

Be Sympathetic, It Really Isn't About You

As easy as it is to think the passive aggression is aimed directly at you, remember there are complex issues behind this behaviour and your sympathy is really what is required.

Don't Let Lines Be Crossed

You should always have your own boundaries for those above you and below you. You have boundaries with your team and should have them with your boss as well. A certain amount of behaviour can be tolerated but if they cross any professional lines, don't let that slip. Depending on what has happened, discuss it with them in person or take it to higher management if you need to.

Keep Evidence

You might feel silly doing this, but if you end up reporting your boss, or if any larger conflicts happen or your boss actually tries to get you in trouble you need evidence. Keep screenshots of conversations, emails, logs of work you have done - everything.

Look To Work Elsewhere

This may seem extreme, but if you have explored lots of other avenues and this is making you unhappy, you need to look at taking a bigger step towards change.

If you love your job then it might be worth talking to senior management or HR about a way around this situation. Maybe you could transfer departments or to another section of the organisation. Alternatively you might need to look at working for another company.

Practise Mindfulness And Relaxation

When we become very focused on one negative thing it can seem much worse than it is. Practise mindfulness and relaxation strategies and consider getting some stress balls for your desk and maybe even a new hobby outside of work to focus on.

It Will Be OK

You never got warned about behaviour such as this, so it's got to be really hard landing what you think is going to be a dream job and then dealing with such a horrible boss. Don't worry, it will all be OK, it's just a case of navigating the situation. True professionals are natural problem solvers, and are often emotionally intelligent, which means you have all the skills you need to work around this issue.

Don't Let Your Boss Make You Unhappy
Don't Let Your Boss Make You Unhappy

How To Deal With Glory Robbers

If you have ever had to deal with someone taking the praise for your work, you'll understand how horrible it is. This is typical behaviours of those who exhibit passive-aggressive traits so here are some do's and don'ts of dealing with glory robbers.

If you're a professional manager, you are used to letting your team shine and awarding praise where it is due; you know that a successful, happy team reflects well on you and will help your career progress. If a team member has done well and contributed significantly to a successful project or task you are more than happy to highlight that fact and let everybody know. However, what can happen in the workplace (which is difficult to deal with) is that others are not so considerate and do the opposite to you. They don't just prevent you from getting any praise or recognition, they often completely steal it from you. It is one thing being humble and basking in reflected glory, but everyone loves a bit of praise and recognition for a good job - how else are you going to be appreciated? So no matter how good you are at getting projects completed successfully without particularly glory hunting, it still stings when someone robs your glory.

We've all been there. You work really, really hard on a project, putting in all hours, blood, sweat and tears and the project is very successful. But instead of getting a pat on the back for your amazing contribution, you have to sit back and bite deep into your lip while a colleague takes all the credit. It is blood-boiling thinking about the amount of effort you put into a project, only to then sit by as someone basically claims all of that effort for themselves, having done nothing. When this happens you can often feel various emotions including; anger, sadness, helplessness and bitterness - none of which are good attributes.

But what are you supposed to do? If this happens once or twice you can perhaps take it on the chin and scream into a pillow, but if it happens regularly, you're going to get overlooked and your progress will be hindered.

Here are a few ways to deal with somebody robbing your glory:


It might be that you have gotten the wrong end of the stick and are lost in blind rage without realising that you were credited for the work and just happened to walk into a conversation at the wrong time, or missed an email exchange where you were credited. Don't be afraid to clear it up and directly ask. If you didn't miss anything then you quite rightly understand your glory has been robbed and can think about your next step. However, if you did miss your work being promoted, then you can quickly thank the person for doing that and move on, taking a huge sigh of relief.

Ask For Clarification

If it is really obvious that someone stole your glory and took credit for work you did, take them aside and ask them for clarification. Explain that you are happy they liked your work or enjoyed working with you, but you feel people believe that they did the work and not you and would appreciate it if they could clarify so that people know who did the work.

Demand Clarification

If the person clearly decides not to clarify after your request, it's time to get a little tougher and demand the clarification. Don't be afraid to approach higher management and directly tell the glory stealer that you are upset at what they have done. Demand change if asking for it gets you nowhere.

Go Big Or Go Home

If you really have tried all of the reasonable approaches and nothing good has come of it, then you can either go big or go home. So going big involves you filing a formal complaint about what happened or taking the issue to very senior management. Going home involves you venting your anger in private and moving on. The problem with escalating the issue is that it is difficult to do so without creating an even bigger problem and seeming unprofessional. Whatever you decide to do perhaps the most important thing is to make sure it does not happen again.

What NOT To Do


  • Gossip and bitch to other people about what has happened - this will not help your cause
  • Go into confrontation mode - your team, senior management and everybody else don't need to see you blow a gasket, it will just weaken your cause and make you look like a spoilt child - not professional at all
  • Start blaming other people in rage - your team won't appreciate being on the receiving end of accusations, and neither will anyone else, this is not the time to be taking out your frustration on anyone
  • Be hasty - as hard as it is to keep your cool, if you are hasty you could end up making a mountain out of a molehill, as in suggestion one about what to do, if you get ahead of yourself quickly only to find you were wrong, you'll look like a fool
  • Be dramatic - be clear about what has actually happened, don't turn it into something bigger than it is. Try to take emotions out of it and think about exactly what happened, it might actually just be a genuine mistake

Remember, no amount of training can prepare you for everything you will go through in the workplace, including glory theft. Work on mindfulness, emotional intelligence and your people skills to provide you with the tactics you need to deal with tricky issues like this.

Learning How To Work Together Effectively
Learning How To Work Together Effectively


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      Good suggestions in dealing with a horrible boss. I've had a few. It is worth it to keep your cool and handle things from a mature point of view.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      3 years ago from San Diego California

      I have dealt with both of these kinds of coworkers and no, it doesn't surprise me to find immature people like this in the workplace. I would be surprised not to find them. Great tips and great hub!


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