Aggression is a difficult beast to handle. You may superficially control it through punishment, but it can still emerge in a different form called Passive Aggression – the root of much workplace conflict and stress.
This is the sulky and resentful style of working, where tasks are carried out correctly, but with such lack of spirit that all momentum is lost and little obstacles are allowed to upset whole programmes. It is a major test of management in coping with stress.
Passive Aggression is clearly a bad habit, a lazy excuse for dodging unwelcome chores while avoiding confrontation. And I have found that it is susceptible to normal Anger Management techniques.
I once worked with a major boatyard in Dubai, where one of the directors, Hassan, had always worked with wooden canoes, and felt disoriented by the changeover to fibreglass. In particular, he resented the fast-track promotion of the young plastics engineers who were making him look redundant. This involved two themes that bulk-up big in workplace conflict – dealing with stress and managing change.
When the early fibreglass canoes developed trouble with paint peeling-off, Hassan was privately delighted. And when the board was trying to overcome this technical problem, he acted in a thoroughly obstructionist way, finding pretexts for delaying several stages of the research. You could call it slow-motion sabotage.
His dialogue was also full of Passive Aggression. To the young engineers, he would say things like “You may not remember, when we were in the old yard …” This referred to a change of premises twenty years earlier. Or he would mention the name of a long-retired colleague. “Oh yes, I suppose that was before your time.” So they were being not-so-subtly reminded of their youth and (relative) inexperience.
In the end, he had to be confronted with his problem – or simply his bad habit. The MD pointed out that fibreglass canoes had not only proved more efficient, but that governments were starting to discourage the manufacture of wooden canoes, on grounds of deforestation. Unfortunately his negative attitude had caused so much damage to his working relationships that he could not function any longer in a senior role, and had to be pensioned off.
Have you heard of someone going into a slow sulk about unwelcome changes at work? Tell us what happened – or just what you think and feel about common workplace situations like this.
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