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61 Examples of Passive Aggressive

Passive aggressive is behavior and communication that is hostile and indirect. This is a means to avoid direct conflict or trouble by indirectly venting negativity. Passive aggressive behavior can include a large number of social strategies to undermine a person, team, organization or system. The following are illustrative examples of passive aggressive behavior.
Acting out physically without going so far so as to get in trouble - e.g. slamming a door
Applying negative labels to others
Character assassination
Combative attitudes
Complaining to third parties
Continuing to be bitter after agreeing that an issue has been resolved
Criticizes others behind their backs
Denies negative emotions / Pretends doesn't care
Dirty looks / Negative facial expressions
Drops hints when they are angry
Encourages others to make mistakes - e.g. intentional bad advice
False praise
Guilt trips / Using guilt as leverage over others
Highlights and publicizes the mistakes, failures and shortcomings of others
Insincere communication
Insincere compliments
Intentional helplessness
Intentionally drawing an emotional response from others - e.g. saying things that you know will make a particular person angry
Keeping score - carefully tracking perceived slights
Laughing at other's expense
Malicious compliance
Mocks others
Negative body language
Obstructing progress
Patronizing others
Petty authoritarianism - using artifacts of authority such as rules against others
Positions others as oppressive / bad
Positions self as victim
Pretending that others have violated a norm - e.g. why are you looking at me like that?
Pretending to be friendly
Purposeful inefficiency
Purposeful mistakes - e.g. sending a customer's bags to the wrong destination
Sensitive / reads much into things
Setting others up to fail
Sighing / makes small negative sounds
Silent treatment / ignoring others
Socially undermining others
Strategic secrecy
Strategic social exclusion of others
Strategic use of inaction
Strategic use of social coldness / distance
Strategic use of stubbornness
Sullen / Down / Despondent
Tries to turn others against someone
Trying to make others feel guilty
Upset when hints aren't immediately read
Won't directly complain
Won't directly resolve issues
Won't state what they want
The behaviors above do not constitute passive aggressive behavior in themselves. For example, you may sigh because you are bored without any passive aggressive strategy behind it.
Passive aggressive is an overused term that is often used incorrectly. For example, labeling aggressive behavior as passive aggressive. It is also common to assume that anyone who is angry is passive aggressive when this is not the case.


If you aren't passive aggressive you directly try to resolve things with others. As such, behaviors such as arguing and directly expressing your complaints, emotions and expectations are signs that you are not passive aggressive.

Passive Aggressive Communication

Passive aggressive communication is communication with negative intent that is socially acceptable on the surface. This is a way to be hostile without technically breaking any rules. The following are illustrative examples.
Most people on the team say they don't like you but I always defend you.
Why are you in a bad mood? [positioning other as the one who is negative]
Why are you staring at me? [pretending someone has violated a norm, positioning self as victim]
Wow, I love your haircut. [sarcastic tone]
Your English is so good. [treating someone as an outsider or treating them as a child]

Personality, Habit & Strategy

Most people have used a passive aggressive strategy at some point. For example, sighing to express negativity without engaging in direct conflict with someone. Passive aggressive behavior can become a habit that can eventually become ingrained in your personality. As with any habit, passive aggressive behavior can be overcome with effort.


Pathologization is the practice of labeling people with concepts from popular psychology. For example, deciding that a coworker is a narcissist or passive aggressive and forever viewing them in this light. Human behavior is quite complex and it is unfair to label people. Passive aggressive behavior may be situational and not part of a person's character. In many cases, communication that sounds passive aggressive is unintentional.


The term passive aggressive was first used by Colonel William C. Menninger during World War II to describe passive resistance to military compliance. For example, if troops felt that an order was irrational, they may execute the order in an inefficient way or find a road block that prevents the order from progressing without breaking any rules.

Allowing Disagreement

Any system or social conditions that do not allow for direct disagreement are likely to create passive aggressive behavior. If the slightest nonconformance or disagreement is punished -- passive aggressive approaches are arguably rational. For example, passive aggressive behavior is common in any conflict avoiding culture that prioritizes group harmony. In this case, groups will appear to be harmonious on the surface with intensive passive aggressive behavior just below this facade.
Overview: Passive Aggressive
Behavior and communication that is hostile and indirect.
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