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What is Passive-aggressive Behavior?

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Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility. It is associated with actions and communication that are designed to derail a strategy, trigger emotions of a target or damage their reputation. Such actions may be taken in secret. Alternatively, they may occur in the open in such a way that they're technically not breaking any rules. There are several variations:

Strategy for the Stuck

The term passive-aggressive originates as a military term. In a strict command and control system there is no way to openly resist without facing immediate punishment. Passive-aggressive resistance tends to pop up when people have little power to openly resist.

Strategy for the Weak

Passive-aggressive behavior also surfaces in situations where people are allowed to openly express alternative views and dissatisfaction. In this context, it is widely considered a weak and unethical technique.


It is possible for passive-aggressive behavior to become a habit that is used to cope with emotions or achieve objectives. This can be quite damaging as it tends to leave a person dwelling in negativity and subterfuge. For example, passive-aggressives often trigger the ire of other passive-aggressives in a downward spiral of passive-aggressiveness.

Organizational Culture

Organizations in which people openly speak their minds are less likely to produce passive-aggressive behavior.
Overview: Passive-aggressive Behavior
The indirect expression of hostility.
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