If you hear these 15 phrases, you’re probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person

Unlike overt aggression, passive aggression operates in subtler ways, making it challenging to confront directly.

Still, it’s essential to be able to identify this kind of behavior to avoid misunderstandings and simmering, unresolved conflicts.

Most sneakily hostile statements carry an underlying tone of displeasure or manipulation.

So, if you hear these 15 phrases, you’re probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

Learning to decipher their mixed messages is job one.

1) “I’m fine.”

This phrase looks harmless at first glance.

When it comes to passive aggression, though, it’s all about context and tone.

For instance, I have uttered this phrase multiple times to a significant other when I was very much not fine.

In my defense, it was usually spoken in public.

My boyfriend would say or do something that made me mad when we were among friends.

He would then suspect his attitude rubbed me the wrong way and notice that I was annoyed, so he would ask what was wrong.

Given that I’m not keen to get into arguments when I’m among people, I would say that I’m fine. My tone, in contrast, would be anything but.

If said in a terse or curt manner, “I’m fine” implies that the person is not fine at all but doesn’t want to engage in further discussion about their feelings.

At least not right then.

You’re not out of the woods yet.

2) “I’m not mad.”

Similarly, when someone says “I’m not mad” in response to a situation where they are obviously mad, it’s their passive-aggressive way of expressing frustration.

Maybe they don’t want to get into things yet or haven’t processed their feelings.

But you better believe a fight is just around the corner.

3) “I guess I’m just not as smart as you are.”

If someone says this in a sarcastic tone, you’re probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

The speaker may be using this statement to guilt-trip you into providing reassurance.

By framing their own perceived inadequacy in comparison to your intelligence, they’re seeking attention and sympathy.

Or, they might actually be undermining your intelligence.

Veiled criticism disguised as self-deprecation is more prevalent than you might think.

4) “I’m used to being ignored.”

Speaking of self-deprecation, someone might use a phrase similar to this one to make you feel guilty for not giving them enough time, attention, praise, and so on.

Rather than openly addressing their feelings of being ignored they choose to express their frustration indirectly – and probably make you roll your eyes in the process.

It’s up to you whether to respond to their plea for validation.

My suggestion?

Ask them about their needs directly and apologize for dismissing them if you’re the one in the wrong.

It’s a much faster way to deal with conflict.

5) “I didn’t realize you were such an expert on everything.”

The tone of the phrase is often sarcastic, suggesting that the speaker is skeptical of your supposed expertise.

In other words, passive aggression is in their blood, and you’ll likely never hear them call you out on anything directly.

Subtle jabs, however, will become the norm.

6) “Sure, go ahead and make decisions without consulting me.”

I use sarcasm on a daily and it took me until writing this article to realize how many passive-aggressive phrases are delivered in a sarcastic tone.

You can basically hear the underlying tone of frustration.

7) “I thought we were a team, but clearly, I was mistaken.”

When someone utters this phrase, they suggest that you failed to fulfill your role as a team member, potentially making you feel guilty for disappointing them.

But instead of saying something like, “You let me down,” they choose to express their disillusionment indirectly.

Their approach makes it challenging for you to understand the full extent of the speaker’s concerns and address them effectively.

In other words, you’re probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

Getting to the root of your problem will probably take longer than you thought it would.

8) “You seem to have all the answers, don’t you?”

If you hear this phrase, the speaker is hinting that you’re acting superior or arrogant in some way.

Granted, they’re not openly saying it, so they may want you to fix your attitude without getting into a whole conversation about it.

Maybe you dismissed their opinion or weren’t willing to consider input from others when making a decision.

Whatever it may be, you messed up in their eyes.

9) “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Behold: the lamest non-apology apology in the book.

It’s usually spoken by a passive-aggressive person who hurt you in some way but believes did nothing wrong.

Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they use this phrase to placate you and only come across as insincere.

When someone says “I’m sorry you feel that way,” they’re not apologizing. They are:

  • Minimizing the significance of your feelings or experiences
  • Apologizing for your emotional response instead of apologizing for their actions
  • Implying that your reaction is unjustified
  • Shifting the blame or responsibility away from themselves

You should totally call them out on it and demand a real apology.

10) “No offense, but…”

Ever heard a statement that started with “no offense” and *did not* end up being offensive?

Me neither.

The same goes for “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” and “With all due respect…”

Saying “no offense” is a passive-aggressive person’s shield when they want to deliver an aggressive statement without suffering the repercussions.

It offers them a cozy cover.

Don’t let them get away with it. 

11) “Kind reminder.”

If a co-worker sends you this, they are tired of waiting around for you to do the thing that you were supposed to do. 

They are lashing out.

Kind reminder translates to “for the love of everything holy just to the task I am waiting on.”

If you don’t get on that, the passive-aggressive colleague might follow up with “per my last email” or “as you no doubt are aware.”

The latter is “you suck” in corporate.

12) “Whatever.”

If someone throws an angry “whatever” in your face and that someone is not a teenager, you’re probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

They are attempting to put an abrupt end to your disagreement, without explaining why.

As they do so, they appear condescending and patronizing.


13) “You’re too sensitive.”

According to a study, this is one of the most upsetting passive-aggressive phrases in the English language.

It’s easy to see why: when someone says this to you, they are simultaneously invalidating your emotions and suggesting that you are weak.

“Why are you getting so worked up/upset/mad?” is a close second.

14) “If that’s what you want to do…”

This phrase carries a subtext of judgment, so the person speaking is taking the passive-aggressive route rather than saying they are unhappy with your decision.

Alternatively, it may suggest that the speaker is not fully invested in the outcome and is willing to go along with your decision without actively contributing to the discussion.

Even worse, they might imply that you will have to suffer the consequences.

Whichever the case, you’re on your own.

15) “Thumbs-up.”

This mostly applies to writing forms of communication – email, DMs, social media, that kind of thing.

Emoji etiquette suggests that the thumbs-up emoji is considered passive-aggressive, especially among younger generations.

If you send someone a message and they respond with a thumbs-up, they imply they aren’t willing to put in the effort to craft a decent reply.

Or, perhaps they don’t agree with what you’re saying but don’t want to get into it, so they hope the thumbs-up will shut you up.

Of course, if someone older sends you this emoji, they might not know about the passive-aggressive connotations. They’re simply being accommodating.

Something to keep in mind before you accuse your grandpa of trying to start a fight.

Bottom line

Some people aren’t intentionally passive-aggressive.

They may struggle to express their feelings or be afraid to engage in open conflict, so they take a more subdued route.

Still, this kind of back-and-forth isn’t healthy, as it can lead to resentment for everyone involved.

If you regularly interact with someone passive-aggressive, encourage them to express their emotions and voice their concerns directly.

That way, you can focus on finding constructive solutions rather than escalating conflicts.

When in doubt, honest communication is the way to go. 

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