From N. Potomac Author, Advice On Passive-Aggressive Bosses

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Everyone has had one: a passive-aggressive boss.

The boss tells you to spend more time out of the office. When it's time for a promotion, you're denied. The reason: You're not around enough.

"It's those mixed messages that drive people crazy," said North Potomac author Loriann Hoff Oberlin.

And Oberlin is there to help. Along with Tim Murphy, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and co-chairman of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, Oberlin recently published a book called "Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger From Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness."

"So often anger is right out there. You know what it is," Oberlin said. "Passive-aggressive behavior is what it is -- it's known for what you don't do. It's promising to do something and then never following through. Your talk doesn't match your walk."

Workplace passive-aggressive behavior is particularly dangerous in that it can make a person feel stuck, so much so that it produces the same sort of behavior an employee is trying to overcome.

So when it comes to dealing with this behavior in bosses, Oberlin has some suggestions.

Let's say, for instance, you get a snide e-mail from your boss. (And who hasn't?)

Most important, don't respond right away. "Give yourself some distance," Oberlin said. "If you reply in a knee-jerk way, your anger will show through. And if you acknowledge the behavior in a nasty way, you are just feeding the problem."

Also, try to acknowledge how you are feeling, not how the boss is making you feel. It's an important distinction. "You want to speak in I-statements," Oberlin said. "I feel this. I feel that. Not 'you did this' and 'you did that.' "

And when you ask questions in response, ask what and how questions, not why questions.

"Why questions put people on the defensive," Oberlin said. "Don't use them."

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