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Passive-Aggressive Style of Communication | How To Be More Assertive? [Series 3/4]

The Passive-Aggressive Style Of Communication

Passive Aggressive Communication Style Become Assertive

Welcome to the third article of our mini-series "The Styles of Communication": passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Understanding these communication styles will significantly impact how you interact with others and how you are perceived by your interlocutors.

The 4 Styles of Communication Series:

The passive-aggressive style falls between passive and aggressive communication, often displaying indirect resistance all the way to hostility. Let's study this style to better understand its dynamics and understand how to develop more assertiveness.

How to be more assertive diagram

Passive-Aggressive Communication: The Hidden Hostility

Passive-aggressive communicators may appear agreeable on the surface, but underneath lies a layer of resistance, frustration, or anger. Unlike aggressive communicators who express their feelings openly, passive-aggressive individuals tend to mask their hostility or resistance through subtle means

This style of communication can be challenging to identify because it often involves mixed signals or contradictory behaviours. For example, agreeing to a task but procrastinating or completing it poorly can be a passive-aggressive response. Similarly, giving backhanded compliments or using sarcasm are common passive-aggressive tactics.

The passive-aggressive style is rooted in a fear of direct conflict or confrontation, leading individuals to express their dissatisfaction or anger indirectly. At times, passive-aggressive communicators fail to consider and connect to their needs, leading to frustration and impatience translated into their communication. This can create confusion, resentment, and negatively impact relationships, as the underlying issues are not addressed openly.

Recognising Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

Passive-aggressive communicators may exhibit the following traits:

  • Indirect expressions of anger, resistance or frustration.

  • Sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or veiled criticisms.

  • Procrastination, intentional delays, or incomplete tasks.

  • Non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling, sighing, or facial expressions of disapproval.

  • Playing the victim or using guilt-tripping tactics.

These behaviours often originate from unmet needs, unresolved conflicts, or a lack of assertiveness in expressing feelings and desires directly.

drawing illustrating the passive-aggressive communication mode

From Passive-Aggressive to Assertive Communication

For healthier and more effective interactions, transitioning from a passive-aggressive communication style to an assertive one is crucial. By understanding the differences between these communication styles and adopting assertive strategies, you will enhance your self-expression, build stronger connections, and foster mutual respect in your interactions. 

10 Keys To Move From A Passive-Aggressive Style To A More Assertive One

  1. Direct communication 

Practice expressing your thoughts and feelings directly and clearly. Avoid using passive-aggressive comments or behaviours to convey your message indirectly. Prepare for important conversations and aim to be kind and considerate of all parties involved.

- What is there for you? What are your needs, desires and expectations? 

- What is there for the other party involved? What may be their needs, desires and expectations?

2. Identify triggers 

Recognise situations or topics that typically trigger your passive-aggressive responses. Understanding your triggers can help you prepare to respond assertively instead of reactively. Being mindful of your inner state and what triggers strong emotions in you is essential to develop more assertiveness.

3. Address issues promptly 

When you have concerns or disagreements, address them promptly and openly. Avoid bottling up emotions or resorting to passive-aggressive behaviours as a way to express dissatisfaction. Remember that the other person may experience the same situation differently and own your emotions and mindset.

4. Use "I" statements 

Frame your statements using "I" statements to express your feelings, needs, and opinions assertively without blaming or accusing others. Be also sure to stay away from “we” statements and be accountable for your personal ideas, thoughts and feelings.

5. Set clear boundaries 

Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations to others. You will not be able to please everyone, even if you try hard. Assertive individuals are firm about their limits while remaining respectful of others' boundaries as well. Blurry boundaries can only lead to frustration and disagreements.

6. Practise active listening 

Improve your listening skills to understand others' perspectives better. Actively listening can prevent misunderstandings and reduce the likelihood of resorting to passive-aggressive behaviours. As much as possible, stay away from jumping to conclusions, personal judgements and biases by always questioning your perspective: “Is it true? Is it really true? Is it possible that there is a misconception? etc.”.

7. Seek feedback and welcome them with grace 

Ask for feedback from trusted individuals on how you can improve your communication style. Accept constructive criticism gracefully and use it to work on your assertiveness. Observe assertive people and get inspired by them. What are they doing well? What could you start or stop doing to become more assertive?

8. Work on self-confidence 

Build your self-confidence and self-esteem, as these traits constitute the base of assertive communication. Practise positive self-talk and focus on your strengths. Develop a fair level of self-compassion and grow your mindfulness to be more aware of your personal desires and needs.

9. Manage anger and frustration 

Learn healthy ways to manage anger and frustration. Utilise relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, to stay calm and composed in challenging situations. You also want to develop your emotional regulation in communication by working on your emotional intelligence (E.Q.) competencies.

man with aggressive communication to a woman

10. Practise assertive responses

Role-play assertive responses in different scenarios to become more comfortable with assertive communication. Visualise yourself handling situations assertively and confidently. After a setback or a challenging situation, think in terms of “Next time I will…” as opposed to “I should have… I must have…”

Whenever you want to adjust your communication skills, you need to understand the thinking habit that causes it. Moving from a passive-aggressive behaviour to an assertive style is taking time, dedication and patience.

You must develop an awareness of your thinking habits, your triggers, your communication habits and address those one by one. From the above list, pick 1 action and focus on it for a few weeks. Once you develop a new thinking and communication habit, you are ready to move to the next action.

Stay tuned for the final article of our series on assertive communication, where we explore effective strategies to develop assertiveness and foster healthy communication habits in various contexts. Leveraging the power of assertive communication can lead to stronger relationships, improved conflict resolution, and greater professional success; can you really afford to miss out?

Maud Vanhoutte

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