More threads by VirtualExistence

I have a passive-aggressive colleague, whose passive-aggressiveness I discovered only after a long time, when I realized that he was throwing a "silent-tantrum" every time we had a difference of opinion. The problem is that I have to interact with him for professional reasons, and everything that I have read about emotional manipulators and passive-aggressivenss tells me that I must avoid him for the sake of my happiness. I suspect that I might be having a codependency pattern also with him. I love my job and don't want to quit just because of a difficult person. It all is confusing me, and I keep going through the ups and downs of alternately avoiding him, liking him, hating him, caring for him, adoring him, detesting him, and worst of all, waiting for him to return to normalcy and talk to me once again! I have seen unknown limits of my own anger and frustration. I am reading related literature with an obsession, and at least I am able to identify the possible cause of the problem, but the solution is still evading me. Any suggestions ?
People can't manipulate you unless you let them. Usually they have to hook you somehow, and if you don't take the bait, they can't affect you the same way. The hard thing to realize is that you are causing your own anger and frustration by allowing yourself to be hooked. It is very difficult to recognize and face up to the hook might be, because it's usually some type of fear. But I think - if you can't leave - that is the best way to free yourself and get some peace of mind.

For example, maybe you are hooked into the idea that your success in your job, and therefore your happiness in life, depends on his approval. When he doesn't approve, you are afraid it means you are a failure and will never be happy. If you can face that fear directly, and then see that it's not true, and that you don't actually need his approval (for eg) to be successful and happy, you can just get on with doing your job and let him go though his emotional upheavals by himself.

I also personally think we are drawn to people who are acting out patterns we don't want to see in ourselves. If I can acknowledge the many occasions when I have behaved in exactly the same way for the same reasons, I become much less hooked on analyzing/being affected by the other person's behaviour and more accepting.


Such a difficult one!! But thank you so much for posting, as it illustrates parts of the relationship between my ex and I, that I had not put into words.

I find the surprising and interesting thing to be what you said:

I have seen unknown limits of my own anger and frustration.

It's like their behaviour has some sort of power over you - actually it is quite controlling isn't it? Some good friends have suggested he may be manic depressive having lived with him.

I don't have many great suggestions but am wondering, have you ever thought about or tried to communicate how his behaviour affects you? (and probably other people). I have sort of attempted but for some reason it is so so difficult just to start to say anything!!?

I think it may actually be the wrong thing to do and I have just been waiting for him to seek help as he has mentioned he may do 2 or 3 times before. The sad thing is I think he may be aware that he has a bit of a problem but doesn't really know what to do about it.

In a working environment this would be more difficult and I feel for you - would stating your issues in writing be more effective - then he coudn't give you the silent treatment

The only times my ex poured out his feelings and short comings was in writing (of course just when he felt like it, but at least he did!)

good luck..


Hi VE;
I think many of us, at one time or another, had such a relationship. If you were picking a friend (outside of work) I'd go along with what you find in literature -- relationships with such people are not terribly healthy. However, when this happens in a work environment, it becomes a whole new ballgame.

In work environment we all depend on our coworkers. When one of them falls short, deliberate or not, the entire team suffers the consequences. And when there is a pattern of poor behavior, it can make matters worse (and even put your own esteem in question)

First, and this is doable with some practice, is you must let him own his anger/aggression. You do not have to own it for him. You do not have to feel bad for him or because of him. He seems to be doing that just fine all on his own. This will free you up to see him in an esteemed light (when warranted) and be free of his wrath (when he dishes it out). In short, it'll give you objectivity).

Second, we cannot change other people or how they behave, unless they want that change. There was a saying "remember how hard it is to change yourself and you will appreciate how little chance we have in changing others" A lot of truth in that. He is how he is, he won't change unless he feels he wants to, needs to, and works towards that goal. can change how you react to the situation.

There may be many possible causes or triggers, on both sides. He didn't agree with your tone, he felt embarassed, or he does know something that you don't but is unable to express it at the time, or he feels that you are simply not listening to him anymore. It can be anything.

The first and most basic option is to pick a time when you two are talking and speak to him about that. Be careful to use "I" language and focus on behavior and how it affects you, with no blame (i.e. It's not HIM, it's his behavior that upsets you). Remember to listen...even if something sounds "out there" let it flow. Sometimes we need to hear it all before it makes any sense. You can say "sometimes, when we don't speak after we disagree on something, I feel frustrated and angry."

Another option is not to depend on him. Is there someone else you can work with when your coworker is not responsive? Is it something you can learn to do on your own? Is involving a manager an option?
Thanks - but still stuck !

Thanks everybody for your inputs. I am still stuck in the groove, and trying desperately to find my way out. I am reading a lot of books on passive-aggressive behavior, emotional manipulation, and codependence patterns. I have been resorting to writing mails to him, explaining the way his behavior affects me. In fits and starts he has slipped up information and snippets of words and phrases that fit perfectly into the passive-aggressive description. But it is frustrating that he does not respond to my mails, messages, anything that I do to break his silence. He just managed to say that he doesn't want to hurt me, coz he did make me cry once, and now he is scared that if he says anything, I might cry again, which might make him lose face in public. In terms of passive-aggressive behavior, I can understand it perfectly. I even have tried to convince him that I can face his anger, and promised that I will not make him lose face in public, but he is not willing to tell me what it is that he is afraid to tell me about, what made him change his behavior so abruptly. I am observing him to be very anxious lately, biting his nails off, but his silent rudeness persists. I read about emotional manipulation too, and though his tactics are manipulative, I don't really know what his demand is. I am so frustrated and ashamed at my "pursuing him" so much, that now I have resolved to give up on my "heroic" efforts of trying to communicate with him. But I keep breaking my own promise, and ending up trying to make him talk. Why is it so hard to ignore his silent treatment and just concentrate on my own life ? I hate to admit it, but I am heart-broken, and want to know what it is that he is not telling me. The boundary between personal and professional is getting fuzzier and fuzzier, since he insists on saying the "thing" is something personal, which forces me to talk to him on a personal level, but the strain in trying to make things work on the personal level is showing up in my professional performance. I am very stubborn, and I think this stubborness keeps goading me to try to break his shell, even when I feel that enough is enough, I have lowered myself pretty low trying to eke out that information from him, and trying to bring the communication back to normal. Also, in one of my last attempts to communicate with him, I got a bit emotional, and confessed to him that I miss him as a friend, and since I had pushed him a bit too much asking for information, I maybe have let it out that I feel scared that he might hurt himself someday. I now realize I may have put a dangerous idea into his mind. What should I do now ?
Will simply ignoring him help ? Or should I persist in sending mails to him ? I write my mails carefully, so that he can not use them against me some day, but writing so frequently and intensely to a subordinate can never be justified in the professional world, especially to people who do not know the pain of silent treatment! I hate him by now for being so cruel to me in his silence! What should I do next ? Snap off my attempts or continue ? Pity him for his inner hell and demons, or hate him for hurting me so much ?


Hi VE;

I have given what you wrote a lot of thought. There seem to be so much going on at once and I’m not sure how or which to address. So I thought I’d share with you something that I had an opportunity to work on.

There is a girl that I work with, a co-worker. She and I quickly built a friendship and all was well. However, there were times when she would find certain subjects difficult (for herself) and tended to make comments that were a bit offensive and very judgmental. While I didn’t confront her about them, I did pull away and minimized time spent with her. It was not a passive-aggressive act, or manipulative one to punish her, but it was my way of coping.

During that time, I was studying NLP. We were asked to do an exercise that called for us to be in the shoes of the person we are having problems with. I chose her. I was to take on her persona and characteristics, I was to become her. At the same time, two other practitioners were going to ask and why she needed this intervention, why did Lana want her to be there? What needed to be fixed?

Let me just say that it was nothing what I expected, but everything I needed. (it was also quite hilarious where one of the practitioners I worked with exclaimed, “I don’t care what she did but I really really like her! How do I meet this girl?” LOL) I won't receive any Oscars for my acting, but being in her shoes, I was able to see that there was no malice in her words or actions. I saw the innocence in her that I missed before. I also saw my own issues with things, things that I unfairly assigned to her. I walked away that evening fully resolved and understanding. She and I have resumed our friendship also. Also, since that time, I have not noticed her being offensive or judgmental at all, not even once.

If you were to “become” your friend, if you were in his shoes, how would you see things, and yourself?
Hi Lana,

I agree with you fully, and this was the reason I read the book "Living with the Passive Aggressive man", coz I wanted to work out things, rather than give up so easily. If I put myself into his shoes, (I might be wrong) I see a very shy adolescent in the body of an adult man, a man who is having a huge sexual crush on a woman (me), for the first time in his adult life, but at the same time is a bit overpowered by the professional force and confidence of the woman that he is infatuated by. He knows that the woman is not willing to look at him in romantic terms, she has spelt it out clearly in words, and also coz she keeps reminding him that he is 5 years her junior, both in age and professional experience. Still he knows that she seems to have a soft corner for him probably in an almost filial or sibling manner. He was confused when she was so happy and free with him, laughing and enjoying herself in his company, letting him dominate her a bit, that he probably took it for more than friendship, being not very experienced with girls. And though she had been hurt by his idea when he had expressed his feelings, she had not really scolded him or got mad at him, and had reverted back to her happy self when he apologised. That gave him a bit of confidence to tentatively try to poke his limits a bit more, by a small compliment here and there, a bit at a time, or by simply deliberately gazing at her. He knew he could make her gaze shy away, which made him feel he might win after all. He strongly feels that there is only one relationship that can exist between a man and a woman, and that is a physical/romantic one, in which the man leads and the woman obeys.

He knows she has a gentle heart, and that could be the only reason she is trying to make him talk, with so much emotion and feeling, writing mails to him, smsing him, trying to be with him, asking him to spend time with him, admitting to be missing him, all the while trying to get her "friend" (him) back. He wants to be the one in control, being a man, but his experience, age, and confidence gives him away, as she is ahead of him in too many ways, and maybe makes him feel less of a man. He knows he can't compete with her, nor the guys who might be proposing to her in marriage, for she wants to marry a guy of her own age, which he never can be. He has tried to find out, very subtly, what she thinks about him, but she has quietly sidelined his hint of a proposal. He has regretted the fact that she thinks only in professional terms, and never in terms of a personal relationship. He is also probably embarassed of having expressed his physical interest and desire so openly to her. He is afraid of her rejection, which he is sure of, so will not dare ask her again.

He is very insecure and has a low level of self-confidence. He knows she is bubbling and talkative, and gets along very well with all other men-colleagues, who all are more confident than him himself, and he fears that she might be talking of his weaknesses with them. He is feeling very insecure and hurt, and wants to take revenge on her, by withholding what she wants - his attention and friendship. To make matters worse, now she is leading him professionally, and has the authority to expect him to obey to do things. Its a total role reversal for him, and he is struggling against his feelings - to dominate, and what he is being forced to do - be dominated.

Now the problem is that even if I know that he is shy and insecure and has a low level of confidence, even if I know his feelings for me, I can neither give in to his feelings, nor can I deny the fact that I can't put up with his rudeness and coldness. He has hurt me by his coldness, when I was literally begging for him to talk to me, and that I will try to fix up what ever his regrets are. I have apologised to him without even knowing my "sin". And this cold war has gone over 3 months now, which I feel is a bit too much. Sympathy has been my undoing till date, and now I am trying empathy instead. I am trying to be patient and tolerant with him, but trying not to pay attention to his sulking and coldness.

With this scenario / role-play , I would love to know your ideas on this.


That's quite a description of him. But how do you see yourself while in his "skin"? Meaning, describe yourself, as he would see you.

He might see me as manipulative (which I admit I am, but only positive manipulation as a mentor), a flirt, too easy on conversation, perfectionist, very aggressive (he provokes me too much, else I never flared up on anybody else) controlling (only in professional terms, but, yes, I am learning to be more accepting now), very lucky in life, and financially successful.

I don't know more than this. He told me these things indirectly in tid-bits, and from that I only gathered he is insecure and overwhelmed with the world around him.

He might consider me very emotional, and a bit crazy too, too easy on trust. And he must be enjoying seeing me squirm at his cold behavior all this while.

Today I completed 4 days happily without giving in to my temptation to try to talk to him (make a connection), professionally I can't avoid him fully of course), or writing him an email, or trying to find out what is wrong. He is still resisting my every professional request, and I am resorting to mails just coz the cold look he gives me drains me completely, and I get sucked again into a mental and emotional hurricane. But personally, to be true, I am still grieving every night, despairing and trying to convince myself that he might never talk to me again after all. I am convinced now that he will never talk to me freely again. :( I did not commit a murder that I got punished without even a chance of a trial. I don't even KNOW what went wrong! I did so much to try to make things better. Can't I make a genuine mistake, just by the fact that I am human? Don't I deserve a chance to make things better? And is my mistake really worth more than 3 months of cold silence and not relenting to my pleas, apologies, requests, coaxing and cajoling? Three months worth of cold rude behavior. Can anything be so wrong as to justify his not even acknowledging my presence, considering me invisible?

I am just broken-hearted now. Sad and grieving. I don't think he will ever talk to me again! I have walked on my head (literally) to make things work out, but he doesn't want things to change I guess. I don't think he wants to talk to me again. Ever. Else I have given him all the chances to cool down, without losing face. I am the only one who has lost face till now, and I don't regret it. I liked him, whatever he was like, I can accept differences, but I hate a relationship gone sour. Worse when it makes it difficult to hold a straight professional conversation, when the other person is not even looking at me, or attentive to me, or is replying to the wall instead of me. Sigh! I wish he would TALK !

And after all I have done to try to make things work, I can only conclude that I have been a fool to let a kid walk all over me! And I feel its high time to mirror him, and grant his wish, and leave him alone ! Sigh !


Sounds to me like you need to get this relationship back on a professional level only and leave it there. As long as he does the work assigned to him in a timely manner, you really need to realize that he doesn't owe you any more than that. If he's overtly rude to you, or others in the workplace, that problem needs to be addressed...again, in a professional manner. Sometimes, we need to realize that close friendships and professional relationships don't, necessarily, mix.
Yes, I guess you are right. I am trying to kick some sense into my head and leaving things as they are. I am realizing that I was taking too much of “rights and privileges” over him, just coz I had felt emotionally very close to him. Days are going much better now, and I have busied myself to the limit that I don’t simply have the time to even look at the scowl on his face now! I have grieved over my humiliation and hurt, and since all my efforts have gone waste, I have no other option but to just leave this out in the cold. I have made my own efforts at trying to make things work, and the ball is anyway in his court now.

He is still resisting my professional requests also, just enough to irritate me, but not enough for me to raise a complaint against him! Smart guy! But as I read in a book, “Let some things slide by”, I am trying to live with some strange behavior. He is resisting every request, every suggestion, as far as he can, doing his best to be “difficult” with me, and I am coping with this by using the mails and phone rather than facing him in direct conversation, where his facial expressions and tone can hurt me. Also I am including other team members in my official mails, so that his resistance comes out into the open. And other team members have started supporting me now, because they too find his resistance (that they can now see in mails) strange and unwarranted for. One of the mails actually made him go red in the face with anger, even though it was a very simple, polite professional request (I am the team lead for heaven’s sake!) that he had turned down, but was trapped into accepting it, just coz he probably realized he had to do it anyway! He is still rude and snappy with me, and avoiding eye-contact with me, but I guess I will just take it as his own awkwardness and inability to make things work harmoniously! He is anyways shy and inhibited and awkward, but trying to project a tough and strong image (it shows, doesn’t it?) and I will try to keep that in mind and “tolerate” him, rather than fight to get something that he is not capable of giving! And best is, I am no longer waiting for his smile, or craving for him to talk. He is still a “pain in the neck”, but I am hoping for the best. I just hope I don’t fall back into the temptation of trying to make him talk. I have fallen into that trap more than once, and am just trying to keep my sanity in place! Things have reached a point of no-return in any case. As I read in a book “relationships are like milk, sometimes you can return it to the fridge in time, and sometimes it’s just too late!” In my case, the milk has been out of the fridge for too long, and it has already gone sour! Wish me luck folks! Its nice to read your comments, makes me sit up and think, like seeing a mirror. I am reading a book on controlling behavior, and working on the controlling streak in my own behavior too.
I am still struggling. Had a confrontation with him, highlighting the resistance in his behavior, and threateing to expose him in public if he tries get cold/rude with me again. Wonder if this will help? As far as I am concerned, he is the worst piece of stinking meat I have ever seen, how I wish he would get a better job elsewhere and leave me in peace! I am still hurting inside over the rude behavior and coldness. Why can't I remain unaffected?
Keep writing please, I need moral support and advice !
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