He emails you.

And you ignore it.

He texts you.

And you ignore it.

He calls you.

And you ignore it.

You just have no patience for this guy.

He’s a pain in the neck.

An aimless rambler.

An earful of yadda-yadda-yadda’s.

But instead of telling him to bug off, you simply disappear.

You fall off the radar.

Temporarily out of service.

For all he knows, you lost your phone.

Or it’s on silent.

Or you’re highly preoccupied with something highly important.

For all he knows, it’s not him – it’s you.

Playing dumb is easier than playing tough.

And so you’ve become a professional dummy.


Your coworker likes to blast his stereo on full volume.

Gangster rap helps him concentrate on tax returns. Go figure.

But you hardly share his affinity for poetic profanity.

The louder his audible-insanity gets, the more irritated you feel.

But, instead of simply requesting some peace and quiet, you walk around the office in hot pink earmuffs. Without expressing it directly, you make your point loud and clear.

You’re pretty ticked, and pretty soon, he’s pretty aware of your tickedness.


You’re standing on line, waiting (semi-patiently) to cop your morning caffeine fix.

A middle aged woman walks in, totally disregards the line, and proceeds to rattle off her order as if she owns the place. She’s restless, pushy, and contagiously antsy.

What you want to say: “get your behind behind the freakin’ line!!”

What you say instead: “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you here — were you on line?”

She wasn’t on line.

You know it. She knows it.

But this is your subtle way of saying:

“The world doesn’t revolve around you. I was here first!”

Without using those exact words, of course.


All of the above examples share a common social dynamic.

They illustrate a phenomenon we’ve come to call “passive aggressive.”

We deliver our dirt with a spoonful of sugar.

Everyday life is sprinkled with subtle yet palpable gestures of passive aggression.

But why?

What’s the conscious (or subconscious) rationale behind passive aggression?


Truth be told, the very term “passive aggressive” appears slightly bipolar.

It’s a blatant contradiction in terms.

Passive” implies compliance, obedience, and submission.

“Aggressive” implies force, coercion, and oppression.

How, and why, do we chronically combine the two traits to create this strange concoction?


Here’s the thing about passive aggression: it’s not as passive as it sounds.

We call it “passive,” but what we really mean is “indirect.”

It’s indirect aggression because we deliver our dirt with a spin.

We have a bone to pick, but we employ a slanted, convoluted, backhanded attempt at picking it.

At it’s core, passive aggression is assertion sans confrontation.

It’s making an ugly statement while keeping our faces polished and pretty.

It’s having our cake, and eating it too.


I think there are actually two types of passive aggressors.

There’s the Clever Cat, and there’s the Scaredy Cat.

The Clever Cat wants to look slick.

The Scaredy Cat wants to look nice.

The Clever Cat uses passivity to sharpen the confrontation.

The Scaredy Cat uses passivity to soften the confrontation.

The Clever Cat decorates the dagger in slyness.

The Scaredy Cat diffuses the dagger in shyness.

They both have a bone to pick.

They both have a punch to pack.

And they both package their punches with an indirect swing.

They just differ in their motivation for such repackaging.

Two different cats; one catty maneuver.


No doubt, passive aggression is unattractive, not to mention supremely annoying.

But – be that as it may – we all play the passive aggressive game to some degree.

Whether it’s to avoid confrontation, or to sharpen it, we can’t help but play the game.

I, personally, hate confrontation.

It’s awkward, intimidating, and excruciatingly uncomfortable.

Yes indeed – I’m a scaredy cat, par excellence.

Which is why I always keep an extra pair of hot pink earmuffs in my office.