Have you ever been in a situation with someone where they’re angry but they don’t use words, instead, they roll their eyes, stomp around, maybe slam a door?

Or, you might be the one that’s acting out in this way: someone asks you if you’re angry or upset (you are) and you say “no”, but then you go slamming around the kitchen or loudly sighing (or muttering to yourself) your way through dinner prep.

If these scenarios resonate with you, I invite you to watch this week’s video, because I’m going to teach you about how to gracefully shut down passive aggressive comments and behaviors (even if they are yours).


What is passive aggressive communication?

Passive-aggressive communication, simply put, is indirect communication.

Basically, it’s you (or others in your life) trying to express a feeling without directly owning it, without saying it.

If this is you, it’s ok. Passive aggressive behavior is extremely common, and I’ve got tips to help you communicate more effectively so that you can express yourself authentically, get your needs met and dramatically improve the quality of your relationships and interactions.

I have to say this: if you’re not owning your feelings and not using language to express yourself in emotionally charged situations…if you’re acting it out instead of talking it out…you’re not being truthful. 

So why do people communicate in a passive-aggressive way?

It’s because in the moment, the emotion is too threatening to honor. It doesn’t feel safe to express it directly.

There are a lot of reasons that this can be the case. The first place to look is where in the past you’ve seen this kind of behavior before. It’s something you might have experienced in your home growing up.

I’ve created a worksheet with questions that will guide you to start to understand where your modeled behavior originated and why you are the way you are. It’s useful whether you’re the one acting out passive-aggressive behavior, or you’re the one confronting it, because in any situation, there are always two partners in the dance, and in order to change, you must look at your part. (DOWNLOAD THAT CHEAT SHEET HERE!) 

So why change? Communicating in a passive-aggressive manner is ineffective, no matter which side you’re on. If you’re not having the conversations, there’s a lot you’re missing.

You miss establishing why someone is upset or angry.

You miss establishing HOW you could do it differently next time.

You miss the opportunity to connect and deepen your relationship and intimacy.

How will you, as the person who’s angry or frustrated, get your needs met and be witnessed? How will you, as the person who feels the unspoken hostility in the room, understand and lovingly respond so you can change whatever it is that that’s going on for the better?

A lot of times, especially in long-term marriages or relationships, it’s a very familiar dance of passive aggression, where you both know exactly what you’re doing, but you’re not having the conversations.

The only way to not have the same fight over and over again is to understand what it means to you and what it means to them. Letting it “just blow over” or “sweeping it under the rug” are ways that passive aggressive behaviors persist and, unfortunately, needs don’t get met. Over the long term, bitterness ensues when passive-aggressive patterns stay in place.

What does passive aggressive behavior look like in practice? I’ve already given you a few examples, but watch the video above for the massive breakthrough that my husband and I had when we finally understood the passive-aggressive anger dynamic that was keeping one of our fights on repeat.

Passive aggression, of course, isn’t just limited to romantic relationships. It happens in family relationships, at work, and with friendships as well.

So what can you do? There is a way to honor your own experience and to shut down passive-aggressive behavior with grace, whether it is your own or whether it is someone else’s. Here are some quick tips, which I expand upon in this week’s episode:

  • Make steady eye contact. If you’re dealing with someone else’s passive aggression, holding steady, non-aggressive eye contact with that person is a way to directly communicate to them that you’re not going to slough it off or ignore that behavior or comment.
  • Question the question. For example, someone asking you a question that’s inappropriate and you don’t want to answer it, your real power lies in questioning their question. I did an interview on the podcast a little while back with the brilliant Kasia Urbaniak, who teaches a verbal self-defense course, and this is one of the tactics she encourages her students to use. You can listen to that episode right here.
  • Use direct language. Here are some words to use if you’re in that all too familiar situation of someone saying they’re “OK” when they’re really not:

“If you are upset with me about something, I’m interested to know what it is. Please know that you can always talk to me because this feels uncomfortable.  I’m sensing something is wrong, and I want to invite you to tell me because I really care about you and about our relationship.”

  • Draw the boundary. Using direct language to communicate your boundaries is a good follow up after questioning the question. For example, “Are you asking me to give you details about my divorce right now? (questioning the question) We won’t be talking about that. (setting the boundary)”
  • Remove yourself. If someone is endlessly, and you’ve tried some of these tactics, it could be time to remove yourself from the immediate situation or to consider decreasing the time spent with this person altogether.

You don’t have to be passive-aggressive and you don’t have to accept passive-aggressive behavior from others…it is inefficient and ineffective.

I want you to have the tools you need to communicate effectively, efficiently and directly. I hope this episode showed you that it is possible to do so with ease, grace, and when appropriate, love– even in emotionally charged situations. If you liked this and felt like it added some value to your life and was helpful, please share it with others that could use it.

If you have not joined my facebook group, click right here and join us in our love tribe! Drop me a comment to let me know what you want to learn about next and I’d love to hear what your takeaways are from this episode. I read and respond to every comment and your feedback drives the content I create, so I invite you to join the conversation.

As always, take care of you,


Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.