Look, we can all get a bit passive-aggressive from time to time.
If you’ve had a really bad day and that one colleague who always gets on your nerves keeps pestering you, you might be absolutely raging on the inside, resorting to passive aggressivity to blow off some steam.
But, as you probably already know, this kind of communication isn’t very conducive to healthy long-term relationships because it sets up a dynamic of bitterness and words left unspoken.
So, how do we leave passive aggressivity in the past and move toward assertive and respectful communication?
It all begins with self-awareness. If someone uses these 11 phrases, they’re being passive-aggressive (without realizing it).
Imagine you’re having an argument with your partner. It’s been going on for quite some time now, and you still haven’t reached any agreement.
As a consequence, you feel deflated and annoyed. You just want to take some space, stop talking about it, and reconvene in a few hours.
But instead of asking your partner for space – which is a very understandable thing to do – you just wave your hand, roll your eyes, and say, “Whatever.”
It’s no surprise that this passive-aggressive phrase only upsets your partner further, making everything worse.
“Whatever” means that you’re closed off to a solution. It means you’re giving up. And if there’s something your partner or friends definitely don’t want to feel, it’s the disappointment stemming from the fact that you’re giving up on them.
“Fine” is a very similar phrase to “Whatever”, except that instead of signaling you don’t want to be part of the discussion anymore, it says that you’re extremely unhappy with the result but don’t have the motivation to keep fighting.
…which can be just as disheartening.
What’s more, “Fine” is an absolute buzzkill.
When you agree to do something but accompany it with an annoyed “Fine”, you’re completely souring the atmosphere, which in turn means that nobody gets what they want.
You don’t get the result you wanted, and the other person doesn’t get to enjoy what they were looking forward to because you’re standing next to them with your arms crossed over your chest and your lips puckered in silent anger.
A great alternative is to simply say that you’re not very happy with how things have turned out and ask whether there’s any possibility you could reach some sort of a compromise.
3) “Thanks so much for X”
Let me introduce you to Kylie and Jerry, an imaginary couple who live together.
Kylie’s just come home from work. She’s exhausted and all she wants is to crash on the couch and have some well-deserved rest.
As soon as she comes home, though, Kylie notices that Jerry still hasn’t cleaned the kitchen despite the fact it was his turn today.
As she’s standing there and looking at the pile of dishes, Kylie sighs, looks at Jerry, and snickers, “Thanks so much for cleaning the kitchen, by the way.”
Ouch. Five minutes later, they’re in the midst of an argument about everything and anything that’s wrong with the relationship.
Sometimes, a gentler approach is preferable.
For example, Kylie could ask Jerry in a calm voice whether there’s any reason why he hasn’t had the time to clean the kitchen yet, to which he would respond that yes, in fact, he had to help his colleague with something and got behind on work.
4) “That’s just so typical”
Let’s stay with Kylie and Jerry for a bit and let’s imagine that the moment she sees the messy kitchen, Kylie throws up her arms and says, “That’s just so typical! You’re so messy!”
Chances are, Jerry will take this attack personally – and understandably so.
Turning a few instances of tardy cleaning into a personality trait can be incredibly hurtful, especially if the person you’re telling this to has been going through a rough time recently.
Remember that nothing is really typical. People constantly change and grow. Instead of using generalizations, always try to address the issue at hand first and foremost.
5) “As long as you’re happy”
“As long as you’re happy” essentially has two different meanings, and it all depends on the context and the tone of your voice.
If you’re giving someone life advice, “As long as you’re happy” might be a good piece of wisdom to impart to someone who’s unsure of what to do.
But then there are also situations when this phrase comes off as passive-aggressive.
If your friend buys a new lipstick and asks for your opinion, “As long as you’re happy” basically means that you hate the color and don’t want to say it.
If your best friend dates a new person, “As long as you’re happy” says that you don’t like their partner very much but don’t want to be straightforward about it.
The problem is that this phrase usually only makes the person in question feel worse, which is why saying the truth in a gentle and respectful way is much better.
6) “You wouldn’t understand”
Sounds innocent enough, right?
Except it’s not. You might think that “You wouldn’t understand” is just plain honesty, but the truth is that this phrase is built on assumptions and narrow-mindedness.
Why are you convinced that the person you’re talking to wouldn’t understand what you’re going through?
Even if they haven’t experienced the exact same situation, people tend to find different ways of relating to one another so that they can forge a deeper connection.
Give others the benefit of the doubt. They may surprise you.
7) “I’m not mad, just disappointed”
Ugh. This phrase is like a knife in the heart.
While the first part of the sentence is supposed to be reassuring – “I’m not mad” – the second part just twists it all around, wounding you where it hurts most.
We all know that disappointing the people closest to us feels terrible. It brings about feelings of shame and disappointment in oneself.
Therefore, “I’m not mad, just disappointed” is a very pointed attack. It is meant to hurt, even if it doesn’t sound like it.
8) “Well, at least one of us is happy”
When something amazing happens to you, your first instinct is to share it with the people you care about.
And if one of them sighs, “Well, at least one of us is happy,” and goes on to complain about their life, you might feel deflated and disappointed, just like a popped balloon.
What can I say? Envy is a bitch.
And passive aggressivity is its best friend.
Remember that true friends would never use this phrase in response to your good news. On the contrary, they’d focus all their attention on you so that you can celebrate together.
I say that as someone who’s been friends with both an envious person and a genuine friend.
9) “That’s… an interesting opinion”
“Interesting” usually means “fascinating”, but in some cases, it can also translate to “dumb”.
The latter is where passive aggressivity thrives.
When someone puts forward an argument or expresses their opinion on something and you give them a pointed pause before saying their views are “interesting”, you might be acting passive-aggressive without realizing it.
Since you want to avoid confrontation but also vehemently disagree with them, you might think that the word “interesting” saves you from imminent danger.
However, observant people can easily see through your words and recognize them for what they are, which is why it’s often better to just be honest: “I don’t agree with you, but I don’t really want to get into it right now.”
10) “I’m sorry you’re upset”
“I’m sorry you’re upset” is a very common form of apology, and yet many people don’t realize that it can actually be pretty passive-aggressive and manipulative.
This is because, at its core, this phrase is not an apology. You’re not apologizing for your actions. Instead, you’re throwing the blame on the other person.
Genuine apologies are all about taking accountability.
“I’m sorry I hurt you.”
That’s much better.
11) “Come on, everyone knows this”
When I was younger, there was a great deal of things I didn’t know about the world.
My much more knowledgeable friend would sometimes get frustrated with me, rolling her eyes and saying, “Come on, everyone knows this.”
That didn’t help me feel any better. On the contrary, I always had the feeling that I was behind on something while the whole world was miles ahead of me.
Just like with many of the above-mentioned phrases, “Everyone knows this” seems innocent at first glance, but when you look under the surface, there is actually a lot of passive aggressivity hiding there.
It’s normal to feel frustrated sometimes. But remember that resorting to passive-aggressive remarks rarely solves the issue.
More often than not, it only makes things worse.