Dealing With Awkward Colleagues

Do you have colleagues who appear pleasant enough on the outside but you know that underneath it all they’re being obstructive?

Passive-Aggressive Behaviour – Four common things to look out for…

  • Verbal: sarcasm, joking with hostile intent
  • Non-verbal: silent treatment or excluding you
  • Victim mentality avoiding responsibility, making excuses to get out of things or excuse failure
  • Task-oriented: not sharing information, missing deadlines, not following instructions.

Passive-aggressive behaviour generally has its roots in childhood where the person was denied the right to express their own feelings and personality. They will feel like they need to fight oppression even where no real oppression exists. This does not justify “taking it out on other people, but, you should try to understand them. Feel sorry for them as they probably can’t help what they do.

Passive aggressive people with authority will jealously guard their territory.  They may jealously guard information and not share it with colleagues who need it. They may intentionally cause delays in the system.

And the fact is that you are unlikely to ever be able to fix their problems. And taking them on aggressively is likely to be counter-productive. So what can you do if you have to work with such people?

Be Professional

Stay professional and engage in task-related discussions. Encourage their input. Try to make their view appear valued. Genuinely consider their view and if necessary, make it clear why you’re rejecting it.  Publically give them credit for their ideas.

Be polite and do not respond to their provocation.

Be Friendly

Try to engage them in conversation. Use humour to make them laugh. If you can make them feel appreciated and valued, you may find that they become a different person.

Explain How You Feel

If none of this works, see If you can arrange a meeting to discuss the problem. Calmly (choose your words carefully so as not to aggravate them) explain to them how their behaviour makes you feel. Stick to facts, without name calling. Often, if you can actually get them to listen they will be surprised at how they make you feel.  They were probably too wrapped up in their own issues to think about it.

Keep Records

If all else fails, document their behaviour. Keep records with dates, names, places and events so that if you need it you can produce it when HR come calling. Keep relevant emails. You can also use such records in a discussion with the individual as above if you have to. But only use them if you need them. It’s better to keep the discussion informal and friendly if you can.


Hopefully you can fix the problem without getting to this last step but be sure to have it there if you need it.  Good luck. Let me know how you get on.



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