10 Signs of a Passive-Aggressive Boss

10 Signs of a Passive-Aggressive Boss

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1. Thinly-Veiled Complaints (or Compliments!)

These are usually used as compliments, like the example we used above. Instead of outwardly expressing displeasure, a passive-aggressive boss might say something like, "No, Denise, I am absolutely thrilled you lost that account. In fact, I think I might give you a raise." This sort of behavior, especially when performed in front of 

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1. Thinly-Veiled Complaints (or Compliments!)

other team members, is poised to humiliate and demean. What to Do: We'd classify this as hostile behavior—and we wouldn't want anybody to have to endure this. You can choose to reply by asking your boss to clarify a rude comment, take this behavior directly to Human Resources, or get out of there. A "leader" who speaks 

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1. Thinly-Veiled Complaints (or Compliments!)

this way is going to encounter many, many problems.

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2. Sarcasm

Sarcasm can be fun! However, if your boss is constantly sarcastic, it can begin to blur the lines. Any great organization needs to have clear communication. Sarcasm often obfuscates the point—and it's not a leadership tool (unless it's used for camaraderie). What to Do: Depending on the nature of the 

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2. Sarcasm

sarcastic comment, ask your boss to clarify what they mean. Do so without tone, which is easier said than done. This ask should prompt your boss to offer more clear instruction. Although, you might want to be prepared for this to unlock another layer of sarcastic comments.

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3. Dismissiveness

Dismissiveness is a hallmark trait of a passive-aggressive boss. In its essence, passive-aggression is a tool used to encase something uncomfortable in a quick quip. It's avoidance. Some common passive-aggressive dismissive phrases are: – I don't have the time for this. – Please re-read the email I 

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3. Dismissiveness

sent to you. – You should know what to do already. – Do I need someone else to help me with this? What to Do: If dismissiveness is the problem, get louder. Write emails clearly outlining what you need to know. Ask questions in meetings, when others are around to hear. Find 

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3. Dismissiveness

space to connect with your boss to make sure you have the clarity and tools that you need to succeed.

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4. Bullying

Many of the points on this list of passive-aggressive behaviors, especially when used together, are straight from the school ground bully's playbook. You know what bullying looks like in the workplace. Do not let it stand. What to Do: Make sure there's a paper trail. Report your boss. Leave.

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5. Excuses

This passive-aggressive behavior is unfortunately somewhat commonplace among weaker bosses.  This is the type of boss that will make sure blame never falls squarely on their heads. Instead, when something goes wrong, they assign their scapegoat. This is an extremely effective way for a passive-aggressive boss to ensure 

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5. Excuses

that their employees feel the imbalance of power. Specifically, it's the way a bad boss ensures that their employees (their "subordinates") are plagued by insecurity and fear. What to Do: If you're being scapegoated and you know you didn't do anything wrong, consider having a conversation with your boss 

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5. Excuses

about expectations. Making them outline what exactly you did "wrong," could make it even more apparent that you, well, didn't. If the passive-aggressiveness is beyond being able to effecively communicate at all, it might might be time to talk to HR. Or to quit.

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6. Insults

We don't have to explain insults, because you know what these are. The passive-aggressive boss likely also has an arsenal of microaggressions to throw at their employees—to highlight their race, creed, gender, parental status, or even financial status. What to Do: Get them out of there—or get yourself out.

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7. Silent Treatment

If your boss is giving you the cold shoulder, you're experiencing a signature passive-aggressive move. What to Do: Maybe this is a "good" thing? If they're usually the type to dole out passive-aggressive comments, take advantage of the silence. If you know you haven't done anything 

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7. Silent Treatment

wrong (and if your boss isn't totally hostile or toxic), put your energy toward your work and not their attitude—your boss is likely to come out of their "funk" sooner than later.  That said, if you've been continuously bullied or are consistently the victim of your boss's passive-aggressive actions (and silence is one of them, as it can impact your 

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7. Silent Treatment

ability to effectively do your job), it's time to take it to HR.

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8. Digital Aggression

Is your boss kind to your face only to send an eviscerating email from 12 feet away minutes later? A passive-aggressive boss might only be so in person. Once they get to their keyboards, they pounce—writing detailed missives about what everyone is doing wrong. If this is your boss, they are doing everyone a 

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8. Digital Aggression

disservice—especially themselves, as they create a paper trail of their toxic behavior. What to Do: Keep the paper trail. Forward all of these emails to your personal address. As with any of these situations, if your boss is personally targeting you, do not stand for it. Keep yourself safe by seeking 

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8. Digital Aggression

advice from HR, your boss's superior, or by resigning.

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9. Qualified Praise

"Well, sure you got the client, but did I notice you wore a lot of makeup to that meeting, or was I imagining something?" This is the type of passive-aggressive behavior that is directed at someone successful. The problem is that the boss is actually jealous of their employee. What to Do: Call them out, report, or leave. This is obscenely inappropriate.

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10. Public Humiliation

Okay, this is a really gross one, but we've seen it play out. This is when a passive-aggressive boss takes a public opportunity to lash out (but, you know, without actually lashing out) at an employee or employees who have done something to displease them. What to Do: This is not okay. When being called out publicly, one would 

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10. Public Humiliation

hope that another coworker would come to your defense, but it's rarely the case. In fact, part of the reason passive-aggressive behavior is allowed to fly in some workplaces is that it's "better" than its alternative, outright rage. If you suspect this is the case in your workplace, get out.

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