Before she speaks concerning work I’ve presented in staff meetings, a passive-aggressive co-worker invariably prefaces her comments with “I don’t want to be mean, but” and then gives her opinion. Although I rarely agree with her, I’m comfortable with any criticism she dishes out as it’s her viewpoint. The problem I have is that she gives her comments with so many pauses and hesitation that she leaves the feeling that she has more serious criticism she’s holding back and this casts a dark cloud over my work. Why does she do this? And how do I get her to cut it out?
If her actions are passive aggressive, she may feel that she voices negativity more powerfully by acting as if there’s so much more she’d say but you couldn’t handle it. In that case, you can generally translate “I don’t want to be mean, but…” as in fact mean-spirited.
On the other hand, she may honestly not want to be mean, or at least not want to be seen as mean.
The next time she says this, say, “PLEASE give it to me straight. Be as direct as you want to be. I can take it. It’s unfair to you, and to me, for you to hold back valid criticism.”
After she finishes giving her opinion, ask, “Is there anything else you’re holding back from saying? I’d like to hear it.” She’ll either say “no” or “yes.” If she won’t answer or says “yes” but still won’t voice her concerns, the rest of the team can draw their own conclusion.
©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at http://www.bullywhisperer.com.