You make passive-aggressive adorable

The passive-aggressive communication style adopted by some Managers is a clear sign of inexperience and immaturity.   The Individuals are generally new to the role, and/or, are of a submissive nature, or simply have not received the support and coaching on how to address uncomfortable situations with others.

Passive-aggressive incidents often manifest themselves with the Manager being overtly annoyed with a member of their team, or even their whole team, and not having the confidence to address the issue.

This leads to the individual being demotivated, and eventually not responding to the Manager’s ‘moods’.  The Manager’s authority within the team diminishes alongside the productivity.

Case Study
Jo’s passive-aggressive style wasn’t the answer

Jo worked for a small Finance business with 300+ employees; he had three direct reports and had been managing the team for 9 months.  This was Jo’s first managerial role, and one that he wanted.  If truth be told, Jo was promoted because he had been in the team for some time and it was assumed (by his Manager and endorsed by HR) that he knew the role and that it would be a quick transition.

Reality of the promotion
Jo had a two day hand-over with his predecessor; it was more a paper transfer exercise.

On day three, Jo was left to his own devices.  The promotion started off well. Jo made no high impact decisions and managed to not ruffle any feathers amongst his team.  In fact, he was very accommodating of his team; after all he knew how it felt to be one of them.

Jo’s Manager had asked him on several occasions to get one of his team to attend the Friday lunch time Management meeting to ensure that the Audio and Visual equipment went without a hitch.  As Jo was part of this meeting, it was expected that a second member of his team would be in attendance for any A&V issues.   Jo asked his team for a volunteer, no-one responded; the team enjoyed their Friday team lunch at their local.  Jo suggested that the team considered a rota for attendance, and asked them to get back to him with the rota.  One week later and following a no-show at the meeting and no rota forthcoming, Jo’s Manager asked for an update.  Jo’s Manager was insistent that Jo be seen as an equal at the meeting and not as the IT engineer.  He asked Jo to ensure that there was cover at the next meeting.

Jo spoke to the team who all said that it was not ideal for them to attend, and that as Jo was already there he could monitor the equipment.  Jo very sheepishly informed them that he was to be an active member of the meeting and not a support resource.  He asked Dave (who he also considered a friend) to attend the next meeting.  Dave shrugged his shoulders.

The Friday meeting arrived and passed with no-show from Dave.  Jo was furious with the lack of support; he planned to say something to Dave.  Dave was being very blatant with his actions on the Friday afternoon.  Jo could not find the right words or the right time to have the discussion.  Jo thought that it would be better to have some thinking time on how he wanted the conversation to go and address it after the weekend.  Monday came and went.   Instead of holding the meeting, Jo’s communication with Dave was offish, unfriendly and short.  It didn’t appear to have any effect on Dave.  Dave seemed pleased that he didn’t have to have the conversation.

On the Tuesday of the same week, Jo asked Fiona for a 1:1.  At the meeting, he told her in confidence that he was upset and annoyed with Dave and that he would like her to attend as the support for this Friday’s meeting.  Fiona was non-committal and Jo decided not to confront her; he hoped she would be in a better mood come the weekly Friday meeting.

The Friday meeting arrived and passed with no show from Fiona.  Jo was furious with the lack of support, particularly as there was problem with the AV and he had to fix it.  He felt the subtle change in the room from the other attendees, who started moaning at him for other AV issues and discussing minor issues with him that his team should be handling.

Following the meeting, Jo demanded Fiona into a meeting room, where without asking for an update on her no-show he got very angry, shouting at her, threatening to sack her amongst other  things if there was no change to her attitude towards his requests.

Outcome of the promotion
Jo’s lack of experience or development within the role, led to too many issues being swept under the carpet.

The final conversation with Fiona led to HR being involved, with Fiona claiming gender discrimination.

The team complained to Jo’s Manager about the lack of direction and blamed that on the lack of productivity.

Jo produced a ‘sick note’ blaming stress.  Jo was considering legal action against the company as they placed him in an untenable position without any support or development.

What happened next
With a lot of extra support and from his Manager and HR, Jo returned to work and to the managerial role.  He attended a Management Development Programme that included 1:1 coaching.  Programme modules addressed issues such as:

  • Communication skillsPassive-aggressive
    • Giving and receiving feedback
    • Communication styles
  • Team Performance and productivity
    • HR legislation and process
  • Managing Change
  • Time Management

Within 24 months, Jo had a further promotion that was managed seamlessly and professionally.  Jo played a large part in the succession planning for his role.

A Manager’s attitude to the good and the bad scenarios must be consistently driven and positive.  A Manager’s attitude alone will not drive success, behaviour must be demonstrated and where applicable skill-sets should be developed.

Developing and supporting Managers at the beginning of their new role will give greater return on investment.  ‘Fixing’ a problem after it has happened takes longer, uses more resources and can have a long term negative impact.

Changing Attitudes | Influencing Behaviours | Impacting Outcomes…


Margo Manning is Managing Director of Margo Manning Ltd and  Bute Learning and Development.  Margo is one of the UK’s top Leadership and Management Coaches and Facilitators, she is The 3:2 Management Model and 3:2 Management Development Programme Architect.  Margo works with Managers and Leaders to drive business success through their own and their team’s performance and productivity.

Margo has been in the development arena for 20+ years and more specifically in coaching for 10+ of these.  Margo works with companies such as UBS, Goldman Sachs, AON, Balfour Beatty, Brunswick LLP, BBMV, Tower Hamlets Homes to name a few.