We’ve all been frustrated by a master of passive-aggressive behavior: a child who repeatedly ignores the parent’s plea to clean his room; the spouse who consistently ‘forgets’ to pick up the dry cleaning; a co-worker who knows full well that the sales report is due every Friday but regularly and blithely fails to turn it in. The Angry Smile “offers a road map for effectively navigating the convoluted and obstacle-laden pathways of engagement with a passive-aggressive person.”
Understanding the behavior is a critical part of learning to deal with people who drive us nuts and of changing the way we respond to their actions – or inactions. The first step is learning to recognize the behavior, which can take many forms. The authors of The Angry Smile describe five levels of passive aggression:
It is important to distinguish between the behavior and a passive-aggressive personality, the authors tell us. There are situations which may evoke a passive-aggressive response from any of us, but this is only one of many strategies we use for coping. The person with a passive-aggressive personality, on the other hand, will act accordingly most of the time.
- Temporary compliance, characterized by a verbal agreement without follow-through
- Intentional inefficiency, or compliance in an unacceptable manner
- Letting the problem escalate, or allowing inaction to create a larger problem
- Hidden but conscious revenge, characterized by perceived injustice and a desire to punish others
- Self-depreciation, which leads to self-destructive acts in order to seek vengeance
To help us recognize when passive-aggressive behaviors are in play, The Angry Smile presents many examples of this behavior as it is exhibited at the different levels. These specific examples will likely strike a chord with every reader since we have all, at some point, experienced nearly identical encounters. The authors cover these behaviors in different settings – school, within marriage and families, and in the workplace — to give a broad overview of the root and consequences of passive-aggression, and common but non-effective methods of dealing with it.
In what may be the most important section of The Angry Smile the authors describe acts of counter-passive-aggression. Often when we are frustrated by a child, spouse, or co-worker engaging in these behaviors, we react instinctively by mirroring their actions. For example, when a child ignores repeated requests to pick up his toys, a mother may respond by later giving the child ‘the silent treatment’ in order to “show him what it feels like to be ignored.” The authors, through discussion and case studies, make it clear that two people engaging in such behavior serves only to increase the levels of anger and frustration for both of them.
The Angry Smile concludes with excellent suggestions for changing our own responses to be more effective by first recognizing exactly what is happening and then taking specifically outlined steps to prepare ourselves for “benign confrontation.”
Well written in an easily understood style, The Angry Smile nevertheless covers a complex subject thoroughly. Readers will come away with a better understanding of the motivators and rewards that drive passive-aggression. Additionally the authors make it possible for us to recognize our own contribution to the cycle and end it. Count on The Angry Smile’s advice to make such relationships less stressful and more productive for everyone.