A Passive-Aggressive Recipe
- 1 cup – Unclear expectations
- 1/2 cup – hard packed jaded emotions
- 2 tbsp – Backhanded compliments
- 2oz – Tears and hurtful feelings
- 1 pinch – Christian Guilt
Directions: Mix all the ingredients inside your heart, then when someone asks you a question in your next meeting. Answer them by deflecting the question, tossing in a compliment that’s really a critique, all while being as vague as possible about what your expecting. Let it rise in you for six to twelve months, and when ready, let it pop.
That may have been a bit dramatic, but if you have ever worked/volunteered under someone who is passive-aggressive, then you know that the above is not far from the truth. This post could have easily been titled, “I’m not a mind reader.” The last post looked at the difference between setting goals with a “subjective” view versus a “realistic.” If you haven’t read the post, you may want to start their first.
See, setting and measuring goals with a “subjective” viewpoint creates a nasty by-product. Over time we get so disappointed in people and situations, mainly because no one can meet our unspoken standard that we get jaded. It is in this moment that we tend to become passive-aggressive. It’s almost a defence mechanism to protect from getting hurt. But it starts to define how we see and live in the world around us, which affects how we lead people.
I just want to be clear that I don’t think a person wakes up every day and determines, “Today, I’m going to be as passive-aggressive as I can, avoid conflict and create as much drama as possible.” In every situation I have ever encountered, my own included, the passive-aggressive leader is a hurting leader. Either through their actions or the actions of others have become jaded, which kicks off a defence mechanism to avoid conflict at all costs. They just don’t want to be hurt again, and the cycle repeats itself. I think there is a leadership and spiritual solution to the passive-aggressive recipe.
Let’s start with the leadership solution because, in some way, it has the most simple solution. The solution is communication, communication and a little more communication. The answer is simple, but putting it into practice can be pretty tricky. From a leadership perspective, the biggest challenge in being or having a passive-aggressive is a lack of clear expectations. This is why this post could have been called “I’m not a mind reader.”
What was asked – “I want you to go and see more students outside of the regular Youth Night.”
The unspoken expectation – “I want you to go out and have one-on-one conversations with students specifically about Jesus. Then report back to me how you prayed for them and moved them closer to Jesus. I want you to do this at least 2-3 times a week because you should have been doing it already and I’m frustrated I’ve had to ask you to do it again.”
The solution to this example is simply better communication, but communication needs to go both ways. In our example, the person could have responded with more questions to bring clarity and conversation.
- What do you mean by outside of youth group?
- How do you want me to let you know this is happening?
- Can I see more than one student at a time?
- I’ve been invited to a basketball game, does that count?
However, the primary leader giving the directions could also have provided more clarity. Because as we see in the example, there were unspoken “subjective” expectations that were not communicated. The person being asked to do the task is not a mind reader. They could have asked more questions, but more information was needed.
The follow-up conversation: Here is the problem, the lack of communication and clear expectations have created a perfect passive-adjective moment.
- Did you go and see students outside of the youth group?
- Ya, a bunch of us went to Billy’s basketball game and then hit up McDonald’s after for some fries and talked about life.
- I guess that was okay.
- Perfect, we are planning to go again in a few weeks
On the surface, the above conversation might not seem too challenging. But in light of the unspoken expectations, the passive-aggressive cycle will continue. Both parties are responsible for being transparent and asking questions. The more questions that get asked and the more discussion had around the expectations, the better clarity everyone will have. Everyone is responsible, not just the primary leader.
The second solution to avoid being a passive-aggressive leader is to address the heart of the issue, being jaded. Being jaded is a defence mechanism and is a byproduct of being hurt repeatedly. To protect ourselves, we become prickly, non-confrontational and indirect. When that becomes our leadership style, there is collateral damage for ourselves and others.
I have struggled with self-worth my whole life, and there have been a few times I’ve become convinced I have nothing to offer the world, that I have no right to be a pastor, husband or dad. Those moments often involved seasons of work where my direct supervisor was passive-aggressive. I was never sure where I stood or how I was doing. Instead of communicating better, I let those feelings and their opinions become rooted in my life, and in turn, I became jaded and very ‘“sassy,” but in reality, I was just being mean. I started to be passive-aggressive with those in my life, especially with the people I led. I had a heart issue, I was jaded, and it took time to learn that I needed to trust someone bigger than myself.
The leadership remedy for passive-aggressiveness is communication, but trust is the active ingredient that fixes the issues of the heart. A trust not in people, situations or organizations but trust in Jesus that He loves me no matter what. Jesus is our healer, provider and source of strength. That Jesus defines who we are, and nothing in all of creation can take that away.
Romans 8:31-39 (ESV) “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When I decided to find my worth and value in Jesus, I placed my heart in his hands. He mended what was jaded, and It changed how I saw the world and led my staff and volunteers. My worth/value was found in Him, and nothing in “all creation” could change that. However, there was a secondary effect; I found that I had protection from passive-aggressive people.
Their words or lack of them didn’t hurt the same way anymore. They still ran from conflict and were bitting in their conversations but I realized I couldn’t control their actions but I could control mine. So I chose to communicate as much as I could, as often as I could, because I knew it was the only way my heart would stay soft. I trusted that Jesus was enough to define me and my value and worth. I ultimately chose to trust that nothing could separate me from his love.
For those reading this that feel like you might be a passive-aggressive leader, your solution is to remember that people can’t read your mind. You need to communicate your unspoken expectations because the people you lead might not know how to ask the right questions. The issues of your heart are more personal. They require you to stop and ask the questions, how’s my heart? And only you can honestly know the answer to that question. The only solution is for your heart is the healing that comes from finding who you are in Jesus.
For those of you who a passive-aggressive leader has hurt, remember that no one start’s their day looking for a way to be passive-aggressive. It’s a byproduct of something more, and the best thing you can do is learn to communicate and ask good clarifying questions. However, you also need to trust in Jesus. If He genuinely defines who you are, then the passive-aggressive comments of others carry no weight or value. Trust in Jesus protects you from being jaded yourself.
I want you to reflect and think about the following questions before starting this week’s activity.
- Am I a passive-aggressive leader? If so, what is the root of my jaded heart?
- Has a passive-aggressive person hurt me? If so, what do I need to let go of so that my heart doesn’t become jaded?
- What are three ways I can communicate better in my current situation?
I want you to sit down and read through Romans 8:31-39 a few times and answer the following three questions. Consider spreading this out over a few days and sharing your answers with someone else.
- What does this passage say about trust?
- Where do you see Jesus? And what is he doing?
- What is one thing in my life I can change today because of these verses?