Archive for April, 2009


In an optimal organization you can find efficient high-performing teams. A good team performance depends on trust, cooperation, communication, and employees’ high level of personal responsibility.

Today’s stressful environment makes nurturing high performing teams one difficult goal. Why? Because growing unemployment is pushing those still employed to work with any personnel there is, not the ones that they choose.

Constant financial insecurity is adding a heavy pressure to the workplace. To survive, individuals resort to defensive strategies such as doubling their productivity, making themselves indispensable; while other employees buckle under stress, get burned out and end up performing below their abilities.

There is still a third group of people who can’t manage their anger at present (or past) situations and find some emotional balance sabotaging their team efforts with passive aggression. When resources are scarce, all competitive behaviors play harder, and non-productive reactions also develop to frustrate the high effective performers.

Why is it important to identify passive aggressive responses as high risk in today’s’ workplace?

Because according to research described in “How Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel (1)” , the worst team member’s performance is the best predictor of how any team performs. It doesn’t seem to matter how great the best member is, or how efficient the leader is, as individuals.

If full group engagement or team cooperation is expected and demanded from everyone, then the person with more difficulties cooperating with others is slowing its performance. It all comes down to what your worst team member behaves like.

And if the team you lead or a part of is not succeeding, now your own career is at risk!

To be able to function as a team member in an effective way, a worker needs to

  • understand clearly what results or deliverables are expected from him;
  • to know clearly whom is he accountable to;
  • what are the skills demanded by the task;
  • display a certain degree of assertion to express his opinions on the required task.

Employees can refuse openly to cooperate because of lack of training, lack of adequate rewards, or any other negative issue related to organizational leadership. What is not acceptable is promising to do some task and then never deliver, or deliver something not according to specs, or so late it’s useless!

A good leader knows that there are straight ways of solving such challenges, if what is needed is more training or time. What is more difficult to address is the contradiction between expressed compliance and negative results.

People promise (make the right noises) and later on there are no measurable results. Sounds disconcerting? Of course it is! And this fake compliance or what has been called “intentional inefficiency” is more usual than expected. According to a recent study of corporate culture conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton, more than 30 percent of the managers, employees and executives surveyed believe they have to work in unhealthy, passive-aggressive organizations.

Passive-aggressive coworkers are probably the most frustrating and obnoxious people in any workplace.

The worst case of passive-aggressive behavior can involve negative attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, “forgetting” to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency.

When it involves promising to do tasks that others rely on, purposefully not getting them done and – and offering some lame excuses later that portray their behavior as non intentional, it can be exasperating for the manager.

In cases where some piece of work is actually done, it may be delivered too late to be useful (e.g., “You needed this for the meeting at nine? I thought you said for the meeting at noon!”), may be performed in a way that makes it useless (e.g., “You wanted the stats for ‘06? I thought you said the stats for ‘96!”), or it may be sabotaged in any other different way.

This generates a team or workgroup paranoid climate, because workers need to be always in the look out for “backstabbing behavior,” so they can defend themselves and preserve the quality of their own work.

We need to understand that this kind of passive-aggressive behavior means a challenge to any managers’ ability to achieve project goals, because of team’s tasks never delivered in time or quality, or general sabotaging of the team’s productivity.

Of course, there can be passive aggressive bosses also, a severe workplace scourge that can force any employee to leave his job to preserve his sanity.


How do you experience and handle a passive-aggressive co-worker, or deal with a whole passive aggressive company culture, and preserve your career?

IF you really need this job, and there is no way you can leave now:


Map to defend your career

I: Is passive aggressive behavior recognized and dealt with as an important component of the company’s management style?


Your organization as a whole is doing some damage control already. Then, you will get guidelines, support and encouragement to:

  1. Clearly identify the passive aggressive coworkers around you;
  2. Decide what activities you can be responsible by yourself alone;
  3. Have team support for those activities which can’t be done by you alone, and you can’t delegate on your passive aggressive co-worker.


Everybody, from top to bottom, is in denial of the effects of passive aggression on team’s morale… Then, probably you are on your own to defend yourself and your work from sneak attacks. The challenge here is double: you need to keep your job and your sanity….So what can you do?

You have two options:

A).- Stay and keep your sanity by detaching

If quitting your job is not the best solution because we are in recession times, and there are too many qualified professionals looking for employment out there, then you need to detach to survive.

First, understand that your constant frustration is a shared pain. Your peers are working in the same environment and perhaps experiencing the same reactions that you have. To detach emotionally requires evaluating the reality of the situation as it is; look at the culture of under-performing teams and accept that you are not likely to be able to change it. When you choose to see it realistically, (this is the price you pay to have a job) you will be in a better position to avoid being “hooked by the passive aggressive games.”

To detach emotionally will require you to give up some, if not all, of your beliefs about what is normal or abnormal in the workplace. In the process of accepting a seemingly irrational way of behaving as accepted behavior, you need to give up your previously held ideas about normal environments.

You are not in a “normal” or “sane” environment any longer, and the sooner you realize this, the better, even if you go through emotional upheaval with anger and depression. Remember, this doesn’t mean wholesale acceptance of abnormal patterns of teamwork: it’s only functional NOW for the purpose of survival in a job that you seriously need. And it needs NOT to be the long term solution, or your creativity will atrophy.

Perhaps remembering the experiences of people surviving in places like prisoners’ camps, where doesn’t matter what you think of reality, there is a lot of “real reality” imposed on you and what you need is to learn how to survive in the midst of insanity, could help you to accept this situation?

B) Stay and fight back: Engage in guerrilla tactics to counteract passive aggression and defend your own work

If you are getting the knack of this situation, then there is a permanent question in your mind: what else can be done, apart from escaping from or neutralizing the damage caused by the passive aggression?

Think through how you can survive and even thrive in this environment without allowing your projects and your career being destroyed by this counterproductive behavior. It’s either you take a proactive behavior and defend your work in an intelligent way, or get hurt without knowing what hit you! On what side of this choice would you be?

If you want to know more about passive aggressive behavior and how to prevent it from hurting you, you are making the right decision! You will be in the minority of people who can see it happening, and are ready to answer it. Find a lot of help with the identification and isolation of passive aggressive behaviors in the ebook:


When you use the tactics proposed here, you will:

  • learn how to not to be controlled by this pathological behavior,
  • develop your managerial skills dealing with this difficult challenge,
  • reinforce your self-image as a resilient leader, able to confront sabotage.

If you are facing this kind of challenge in your workplace, and it is really sabotaging your best work, and damaging your career, then NOW is the time to order this ebook. Follow the directions in the next page to download it to your computer fast!

(1) W Felps, T Mitchell, E Byington,How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups,” in Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 27 (2006), pp. 175-222.

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