If someone uses these 9 phrases, they’re likely being passive aggressive

Passive aggression is a way of expressing discontent or disagreement, but without directly stating it. It’s a roundabout way of saying “I’m not happy”, often accompanied by an underhanded sting.

The frustrating part? It’s usually disguised under polite conversation, making it hard to spot.

But fear not! I’ve learned to decode this secret language. There are certain phrases that give passive aggression away.

In this article, I’ll share my cheat sheet with you. By the end, you’ll be a pro at spotting and diffusing these covert tactics!

1) “I’m fine”

Not everyone who says “I’m fine” is actually fine. 

According to psychologist Sharon Martin, we tend to say “I’m fine” when we want to pretend we’re doing fine or dodge conflict. It’s also a phrase we use when we want to brush aside uncomfortable feelings. 

With passive aggressive people, “I’m fine” is usually accompanied by a tone and body language that may suggest otherwise.

This serves a dual purpose – it allows the person to express their discontent indirectly and makes it difficult for others to address the issue directly since they’ve stated they’re “fine.”

The key? Trust your instincts. If you sense something is off, despite being told everything is fine, chances are there’s more to the story.

2) “Whatever” 

In my experience, one phrase that screams passive aggression is “whatever.”

I remember once planning a weekend trip with a friend. I suggested a couple of destinations, and her response was always, “whatever you want.” It seemed like she was being accommodating, but her tone and lack of enthusiasm suggested otherwise.

Eventually, I asked her if she really didn’t have a preference or if she just didn’t like the options I was suggesting. She admitted it was the latter.

“Whatever” can be a way for someone to express discontent with the choices on offer without having to openly disagree. It’s a subtle way of saying, “I’m not happy with these options, but I don’t want to take responsibility for suggesting something else.”

3) “Fine, go ahead”

The phrase “Fine, go ahead” is another classic in the passive aggressive playbook. It seems on the surface to be a permission-granting statement, but it often carries a different message.

This phrase is typically used when a person disagrees with an idea or action but doesn’t want to express their disagreement directly. It’s their way of distancing themselves from the decision while still expressing their discontent.

“Fine, go ahead” is like saying, “I don’t agree with you and I’m not happy about it, but I’m not going to stop you.” It’s a way of expressing disapproval without risking confrontation.

Being aware of this can help manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings. A direct conversation might be needed to clear up any confusion and ensure everyone is genuinely on board with a decision.

4) “No, I’m not upset”

A classic phrase used in passive-aggressive communication is “No, I’m not upset.” This may seem straightforward, but it’s often anything but.

While it’s possible for someone to say this genuinely, it can also be a covert way of expressing displeasure. It’s a way of saying, “I’m upset, but I don’t want to directly confront the issue.”

This phrase is typically accompanied by signs of discomfort or annoyance. They might avoid eye contact, have a sharp tone, or exhibit tense body language.

Understanding this can help open up more honest and direct communication. If you suspect someone is upset despite their words, addressing the issue tactfully can help clear the air.

5) “It’s not a big deal”

“It’s not a big deal” is another phrase often used in the realm of passive aggression. On the surface, it seems like a dismissive statement designed to downplay an issue.

But here’s the thing – in many cases, it’s a veiled attempt to express discontent or disappointment. It’s a way to communicate that something bothers them, without having to openly admit it or discuss it.

When someone repeatedly uses this phrase but their tone and actions suggest otherwise, it may be indicative of passive-aggressive behavior.

In such instances, it might be worth gently probing and encouraging them to share their true feelings about the situation. This can pave the way for more open and productive conversations.

6) “I wouldn’t expect you to understand”

Perhaps one of the most hurtful phrases in the passive-aggressive lexicon is “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” It’s a subtle put-down, a way of dismissing your perspective and creating emotional distance.

When someone uses this phrase, it often feels like they’re putting up a wall. They’re saying, “You don’t get it and you never will.” But what they might really be communicating is, “I’m hurt or upset, and I don’t know how to express it.”

In my opinion, empathy is the best response in these situations. Instead of being defensive, try saying something like, “You’re right, I may not fully understand, but I’d like to. Can you help me see it from your perspective?”

This can help bridge the gap and show them that their feelings are valid and heard.

7) “I guess I’ll have to do it”

One phrase that’s always stuck with me is “I guess I’ll have to do it.” It seemingly indicates resignation – a willingness to take on a task that perhaps isn’t desired.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve heard this phrase and felt a pang of guilt. It usually happens when responsibilities are being divided, and someone feels they’re getting the short end of the stick.

The person saying “I guess I’ll have to do it” is often expressing their feeling of being taken for granted or burdened with more than their fair share.

If you hear this phrase, it could be a sign to reassess the balance of responsibilities and ensure everyone feels valued and fairly treated.

8) “I thought you knew”

“I thought you knew” is another phrase that signals passive aggressive tendencies. It’s often used when someone is upset about something but hasn’t communicated their expectations clearly.

This phrase shifts the blame onto the other person, implying that they should have known or understood something without being told directly.

The person using this phrase may feel that their needs or expectations are obvious and should be understood without them having to express them.

9) “That’s okay, I didn’t expect much”

The phrase “That’s okay, I didn’t expect much” is a potent tool in passive-aggressive communication. It’s a way to express disappointment without confronting the issue directly.

It implies a lack of faith in the other person’s abilities or efforts, and it can be quite hurtful. Despite its seemingly forgiving tone, it’s often a veiled criticism.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with passive aggression is that it’s often a result of unexpressed feelings or unmet needs. Responding with empathy and understanding can open channels for direct and honest communication, making way for healthier interactions.

Reflecting on communication

Passive aggression, often seen as a convoluted form of communication, is rooted in an individual’s inability or unwillingness to express discontent directly.

The phrases we’ve highlighted in this article serve as potential indicators of this communication style. Recognizing these signs can be the first step towards encouraging more open, honest dialogue.

But remember, it’s not just about identifying these phrases. It’s about understanding the emotions and motivations behind them. It’s about fostering an environment where people feel safe to express their feelings directly.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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