It can be hard to imagine how someone who doesn’t have any self-confidence or the ability to handle a position of authority becomes a boss. You’ve probably experienced one or two of these types of bosses before. And, if you know it, then chances are, they also know their limitations.

These limitations often result in the passive-aggressive boss (manager), which happens to be one of the most difficult kinds of bosses you can work for. Their passive-aggressiveness is the result of their own insecurity to handle the authority or the lack of faith in themselves. Of course, employees know when a boss is incompetent – when that person shouldn’t be in a position of authority. How can you tell if your boss is going to be the passive-aggressive type? How can you handle the situation?

It can be hard to imagine how someone who doesn’t have any self-confidence or the ability to handle a position of authority becomes a boss. You’ve probably experienced one or two of these types of bosses before. And, if you know it, then chances are, they also know their limitations.

5 Warning Signs Your Boss Is Passive Aggressive and How To Address The Problem

There are several warning signs to watch out for when it comes to a passive-aggressive boss. And, if their attitude isn’t addressed right away, it can lead to three key things:

  • Loss of respect from employees
  • De-motivation
  • Employees quitting for other jobs

What are the five commonly seen traits of a passive-aggressive boss?

No Direct Assessment Of Your Job

A passive-aggressive boss will avoid offering you a direct assessment of your performance – be it good or bad. Employees will work with no feedback or accolades for the job they’re doing. With this kind of boss, employees don’t know if the job they’re doing is right or wrong. And, this can affect the company’s overall morale.

  • What you can do – A surefire way to learn about your performance is to put the boss on the spot. If you ask them a direct question about it, the boss is liable to give you useful information about your performance – what you’re doing right, what can go better, etc. And, if you find difficulty with this approach, just continue doing what you’re doing.

Ambiguous or Redundant Rules

When a boss announces rules or directions, they do so in a passive-aggressive manner. Instead of being explicit about these rules, the guidelines are ambiguous and are the result of things they know off-hand. If the boss feels an employee is breaking an unstated or unclearly stated rule, their first instinct is to add even stricter ambiguous rules.

  • What you can do – Employees find this issue has extremely problematic. After all, the boss is the boss. They establish the rules, and you must abide by them. All you can do is your job to the best of your ability. And, if you think the rules are out of line, you may want to determine what the boss’ motivation is.

Overly Picky About Non-Consequential Issues

If a boss appears to let the important issues slide and comment on the lesser important ones, they’re the passive-aggressive type. If they don’t make comments on issues that help achieve the company’s overall goals or how your performance is affecting the company, they may not feel secure in their position as a boss. Bosses that nit-pick about the little things leads to confusion among employees. It can make a person second-guess their worth in the company.

  • What you can do – If the issues happen every now and then, let the matter drop. However, if it’s constantly going on, you need to consider using the following approach: Fairly recognize their complaint and ask them how it aligns with the overall goals. Ask for formal documentation that highlights mistakes – to ensure you have some to gauge your improvement. Of course, the best thing to do is tread carefully.

Lack In Sharing Information That Helps With Professional Development

A strong boss knows that, for a company to succeed, everybody must pull their weight. They’ll do what they can to make that happen.  A passive-aggressive boss worries that somebody will do better than them and take their position. This type of boss keeps their experience to themselves – instead of sharing it with employees to ensure the company’s goals are met. When new employees are hired, they don’t train them, and they don’t offer any kind of professional development to current employees.

  • What you can do – If you’re going to succeed in the company, you’ll need to circumvent your boss and learn things on your own. There are several ways in which you can learn your job. Talk with co-workers about their knowledge and share your own with them. If your boss is hindering your ability to move forward in your position and career, you’ll need to start taking professional development courses that help you to move onto a better future – away from the boss and current position.

Doesn’t Genuinely Interact With Employees

A strong leader will know how to maintain their authority and openly interact with their employees. However, a boss that’s passive-aggressive is unable to let their guard down. They may want to be liked by the employees they supervised, but they always put up a wall between themselves and others.  A passive-aggressive boss will come across nice one minute and a hard-ass the next.

  • What you can do – Maintain your distance. Your boss wants that wall up between you and them. The best thing you can do is focus on your job without wondering how the boss will react from one minute to the next. Put attention on establishing relationships with co-workers.

Have you worked for or are currently working for a passive-aggressive boss? If so, how did you handle the matter? If you have strategies not mentioned above, consider emailing them to Ask@AskJoanneVictoria.com with the words ‘passive/aggressive’ in the subject line. And don’t forget to share your experience in the Comments area below!


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Joanne Victoria
JOANNE Victoria, The I Know What Works Coach, is the author of 7 books including Lighting Your Path - How To Create the Life You Want and Pushy For a Moment-Instant Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Joanne lives in the Seattle area. After professions such as Real Estate Broker/Owner, CFO of an investment company, CFO and Sales & Marketing Director of a home-building company, owner of New Directions, a business development firm as well as Gemma & Bixley, a coaching and consulting company, Joanne was ready for her next adventure, helping IT people live the life they want. Joanne took her business and personal development, added in several ounces of intuition and humor, along with studies in philosophy, Buddhism, and leadership, all to be the best qualified I Know What Works Coach ever. Joanne is the host of the "The San • IT Project Podcast", and partners with IT Professionals in Telecommunications, Technology, Entertainment and Mass Media whose work/life integration plan has imploded and who want more success, more confidence, more fun and more inner peace.
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