Passive Aggressive Communication Explained

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Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Wednesday February 22, 2023

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Passive aggressive communication is when you express aggressive behavior indirectly instead of directly. It attempts to communicate anger or other forms of distress without clearly saying emotion. Passive aggression can be shown in many ways. Here is more on understanding passive aggressive communication. 

Signs of Passive Aggression 

There are lots of subtle and indirect ways a person can show aggression. When in situations to induce hurt or anger, it is the only way these individuals feel comfortable expressing their emotions. Once they hit a threshold of unacceptable behavior, they can be prone to outbursts or completely shut down. 

Here are some ways passive aggression can show up:

  • “Ghost” you 
  • Backhanded compliments 
  • Silent treatment 
  • Make excuses over saying what they’re thinking
  • Procrastinating 
  • Sarcasm 
  • Stuble digs 

Someone passive aggressive might repeatedly state they are fine when they are not. They will continue to use this pattern since they cannot emotionally open up. 


You can identify passive aggression in certain behaviors. It can show up in ways you don’t even realize or entirely on purpose. Here are some examples of passive aggression.

1. Lateness 

Although being late from time to time is not a form of passive aggression, frequent lateness is a way to show disrespect. Showing up late may signal to another person that you don’t care enough about the event to be one time. 

It can also be a way to avoid uncomfortable situations or make someone feel less important. There are times when traffic or loss of time is the reason for being late compared to doing it with purpose. 

2. Sarcasm 

When a person says something they do not mean and is often accompanied by a tone of voice, it is sarcasm. It can be used to punish the other person or make them feel bad in a situation. 

It is especially damaging when used in a relationship. Partners may use sarcasm to mock a loved one’s emotions or personality, which can become damaging. 

3. Avoiding 

Avoidance can come out in multiple ways. This strategy is a way to display aggression without saying anything at all. Some ways avoidance can be shown are: 

  • Not answering calls
  • Not discussing certain topics
  • Procrastinating 
  • Blatantly ignore them

4. Subtle Digs

Negative comments are a common form of passive aggression. Sometimes people pin them as jokes, but it is emotional manipulation and can hurt your partner. It can even be self-inflicted, such as when people comment about their weight. 

Digs can come from the present moment or about things in the past. Continuous comments can be made over time, meant to knock someone down slowly. 

Dealing With It

If someone you know suffers from consistent passive aggressive communication, you may wonder how to deal with it. An obstacle is faced when the person with passive aggression attempts to conceal the emotions but still wants to communicate them. 

No one method is bound to work, but there are ways to work with this behavior. Some options are: 

  • Setting boundaries. When someone refuses to see they are using aggression, it can be helpful to set boundaries depending on what can be tolerated. This can look like not calling more than once while they are giving the silent treatment. 
  • Shift to open communication. Try to point out the passive behavior being used directly. For example, we cannot sort out the issue when you avoid my calls. Let’s talk about it. 
  • Don’t use counter-aggression. Sometimes the other person’s actions can be so hurtful you use them yourself. This only escalates the problem. Try to avoid your own aggressive behaviors.
  • Skip to the emotions. Rather than pointing out aggressiveness, respond to the emotions they are signaling. Work to find a solution to fix the problem. 

The Bottom Line 

Passive aggression is likely to interfere with a healthy relationship. Noticing behaviors and trying to counter them can help minimize the potential damage to your relationships. 


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