Translating the Top 10 Passive-Aggressive Phrases in the Workplace

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Good communication is arguably the most important trait of any successful business. It’s not just crucial that people talk to each other, but the way people talk to each other is also important. Passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace is toxic, and will quickly destroy relationships and harm the company.

Some of the most common forms of passive-aggressive phrases in the workplace can be seen in the way we communicate with one another over email, instant messaging, or over the phone. Seemingly harmless phrases that we say every day to each other could potentially be poisoning the workplace.

Translating the Top 10 Passive-Aggressive Phrases in the Workplace

  1. “Thanks in advance” – It seems friendly enough, but it puts the receiving party in a position where it’s nearly impossible to say no. By saying “thanks in advance,” you’re really saying “I’m expecting you to take care of this.”
  2. “No worries” – Hakuna Matata may work over at Disney, but in the workplace it really means “I hate you right now, and I’m just going to hold it in until I can’t anymore and it bubbles out of my ears.”
  3. “Any thoughts?” – This one usually comes after some sort of criticism and can read as “this will go better if you just agree with me right now.”. For example, “I didn’t love that last assignment you finished, I think you could have done something better. This will go better if you just agree with me right now.”
  4. “Just kidding” – Just stop. Most people who say “just kidding” are actually saying “oops, that thing I just said seemed pretty direct. Let’s say JK so that nobody is sure how I really feel.”
  5. “I guess we’ll see.” – If you’re on the receiving end of this one, it’s probably safe to read it as “I really don’t want you to do that thing you’re going to do. I’m smarter than you in this situation and if you go through with it and fail, I will be selling tickets to the ‘I told you so show.’”
  6. “Fine” – Not only is this one of the most common of these phrases, but it can sometimes be the most destructive. When someone says something is fine, it means “I don’t want to talk about this anymore or let anyone know what I’m feeling.” Saying fine is often more harmful to those who say it.
  7. “I was surprised to see” – People usually use this phrase as a buffer for criticism. You should read it as “I’m going to say I was surprised or confused as a way to disguise how stupid I think this is.”
  8. “So…” – It’s so small, but so passive-aggressive. “So…” usually means that the speaker is impatient and agitated, but they don’t what to say “Hey, so I’ve been waiting. Why are you making me wait this long. I’m more important than that other stuff you’re doing.”
  9. “Not mad” – Similar to other items on this list, saying “I’m not mad” is a way to avoid direct conflict. Sometimes, you’re better off expressing your anger (albeit in a professional and healthy manner) than holding it in.
  10. “Whatever” – What are you, 12? This isn’t Clueless, and you can’t be saying “whatever” in the workplace. All it means is “I think you’re dumb.”

The business attorneys at Garland & Mason LLC are proud to be a part of the lasting success of so many small businesses throughout Monmouth County.


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