Slights with a smile. Silence when you know they can hear you. Compliments with a side of side-eye. Passive aggressive people know how to serve up a veritable buffet of “Oh no she didn’t.” And tacking on “LOL” afterwards doesn’t negate things.

However it manifests, passive aggression is the fine art of being angry without seeming angry. There are two ingredients: anger and avoidance.

The first, anger—or its cousins annoyance, frustration, or irritation—always bubbles beneath the surface. But trying to suppress anger is like trying to keep a lid on a pot of boiling water. Eventually, it will spew out like a steam vent.

In addition to thinly-veiled anger, the second ingredient in passive aggression is avoidance. It’s a way to avoid conflict, avoid feeling genuine anger, and avoid having to be direct in a situation where one feels incapable.

Individuals who are passive aggressive learned somewhere along the way that it’s not okay to be angry. Maybe they were taught that conflict is so threatening it has to be avoided at all costs. Maybe they were taught that being “nice” is the only option. Or maybe it’s their way of expressing their dissatisfaction without outright rebellion.

So what to do when your partner insists through clenched teeth, “I’m not mad.” Or your teenager says with an eye roll, “Geez, you didn’t tell me you wanted me to do my laundry today”? Or your roommate spells out “I unclogged the drain” in bathtub hair that looks suspiciously like yours? Here are 6 tips to try.

How to Handle Passive Aggressive People

  1. Tip #1: Look for a pattern.
  2. Tip #2: Make it clear that it’s safe to talk it out.
  3. Tip #3: For incurable cases, validate them…
  4. Tip #4: ...hold them to their responsibilities…
  5. Tip #5: ...and reward them when they’re properly assertive.

Let's explore each a little further.

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