The Silent Killer
Issue 13 – May 2012
It runs rampant in organizations and claims millions of victims each year. Lurking behind polite discussion, smiles, promises and handshakes is the inhibitor of innovation, the destroyer of momentum and the killer of trust. You and I witness its carnage on almost a daily basis. The silent killer in organizations is passive-aggressive behavior.
Recently we asked executives to share examples of passive aggressive behavior. Following are their stories:
Executive “A” says: Passive-aggressive behaviors unfortunately reign in my organization. Often our leaders fail to engage subordinates during discussions when they disagree with presentations. Instead they wait until post meeting discussions with their peers to state their opinions and effectively criticize the work. Just once, I’d appreciate someone saying “what did you intend to say by this slide” or “you obviously thought this was important for me to know, please tell me why”. Instead, the behavior is to dismiss the content in a literal sense and lose the chance to leverage the team’s work.
Executive “B” reports: Passive-aggressive behavior creates a lot of inefficiencies within our system. This type of behavior does not lead to good collaboration which is necessary for the success of an organization. It also creates a lot of tensions and lack of trust between people at the top and then cascades down in the entire organization.
Executive “C” states: Passive aggression is my “pet-peeve”. It is the most destructive and fundamentally dishonest behavior that can be displayed in a business or a team environment. People who display these behaviors seem to have a few consistent attributes-they lack confidence, they fear conflict and they are more interested in the “game within the game” than they are with meeting objectives, and working as a team member to move things forward. In other words, it is about “them” and their fears/frustrations and not about the team, the shareholders or the customers.
Executive “D” explains: Specific instances of passive aggressive behavior at my company include individuals intentionally not doing something or not following through on a key execution point with the hopes of seeing an initiative led by another team member fail and/or to make another person look bad. Sometimes this is an obvious effort to detract attention away from themselves and their flagging performance. This behavior of the passive aggressive-waiting until a public moment to punch well thought out holes in another team member’s goals, actions, or plans-is damaging and disingenuous.
Executive “E” laments: During my career two different organizations featured the combination of strong silos and passive-aggressive behavior amongst the leadership team. Passive-aggressive behavior played out in a number of ways and was highly dysfunctional. Although the organizations and players were different, these behaviors caused similar problems: Reliance on the blame game when things didn’t go well; lack of alignment in vision and goals; higher emphasis on internal politics; and tactical versus strategic focus.
My View? Passive aggressive behavior is ugly, it’s dishonest, it’s cowardly and it kills trust.
What’s your story?