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4 Ways Passive Aggression Forms

By October 11, 2022Leadership

How does passive aggression form on a team or in a church?

Passive aggression in my context is when people are upset or aggravated about an issue but those in leadership positions with authority to do anything about it are the last to hear there is a concern or problem. I’ve seen it destroy the health of organizations (and churches) so many times.

I’ve got some theories of how it develops. They’ve been developed by years of doing church leadership. I never imagined how many passive aggressive people I could find in the church. 

Yet, it’s not just found in the church. I’ve been in business, government and nonprofits. Passive aggression is prevalent in every context where I’ve worked.

Where does it come from? How does it develop? 

4 ways passive aggression forms: 

Culture of fear. When people are afraid of how others will respond they are less likely to share how they truly feel. They’ll be “passive” instead. 

Absence of challenge. Passive aggression becomes the norm when no one ever challenges those doing it directly. Eventually, someone needs to stand up to people who gossip or complain. They need direct them to the people about whom they are complaining.

Broken relationships. When people are injured they often carry those injuries into other relationships. They try to protect themselves from future conflict by keeping their aggression “behind closed doors”. 

Lack of communication. When people don’t have answers they make up their own. Especially in large organizations, this often leads to “chatter” rather than the truth. 

Of course, all of these need to be addressed in order to move the culture away from passive aggressive behaviors.

Let me briefly address each one. 

Build trust. Our staff is reading a book together which addresses organizational fear, for example. We are trying to build trust and eliminate passive aggression. 

Challenge directly. When I have attempted church revitalization, passive aggression is often a leading cause of tension in the church. I’ve learned I have to confront that in order to have any traction. And I must challenge other influencers to do likewise.

Address hurts. People who have been injured need to be cared for, heard, and assisted so they can heal and move forward. This is messy, but too many times we allow broken relationships to continue – even in the church. You can’t sweep conflict under the rug and hope to have a healthy organization. 

Communicate better. Communication is one of the most important jobs of a leader. People only know what they know. We must be open to challenge, questions, and invite people into discussions as much and as early as possible.

Passive aggressive cultures are damaging to organizational health. We should do all we can to eliminate this from the teams we lead. 

Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss issues of leadership in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.

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Ron Edmondson

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