What causes passive aggressive behaviour at work and what can be done to manage it?

Over the years FMI has had many clients who struggle with someone in their workplace who displays passive aggressive behaviour towards colleagues. To begin with, this type of behaviour upsets and frustrates team members. As it continues, this toxic behaviour can significantly impact work; decrease quality, demotivate staff, ruin relationships and cause staff turnover.

What can cause passive aggressive behaviour?

More often than not, passive aggressive behaviour is rooted in a sense of fear.

What can cause this fear?

  • Feeling threatened by the knowledge or superiority of others
  • Feeling unsure about how navigate through an issue or challenge
  • Not wanting own emotions or feelings to be seen by teammates
  • Lack of self-belief


What can be done to manage passive aggressive behaviour?

As someone in a leadership role you are not a trained psychologist so you need to be pragmatic with how you respond to someone displaying this behaviour.


First and foremost, do not take on other person’s behaviour as your own responsibility. Ultimately it will always be up to them to change their behaviour but there are some things you can do to guide them in the right direction.

  • Give feedback – “When you behave like this, this is how it makes me/others feel”
  • Ask questions – are they aware of their behaviour?
  • Set targets together – it’s up to you to put together some guidelines and boundaries but let them decide (with your guidance) on how they will change their behaviour to meet these criteria
  • Set timelines together
  • Document the agreement to change behaviour
  • Give them time to initiate behavioural change
  • Continue to give feedback including praise of improvements
  • Review progress regularly


You can do this yourself, with the help of an FMI coach to guide you or you can engage one of our coaches to manage this process with your team member.