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How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive

How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive

Being a good nurse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We all have to deal with co-workers, and our co-workers have to deal with us!

Here’s the difference between three main personality categories.   Most of us fall in one category or another but we can cross over and be passive in some situations while being aggressive in others. For example, even the most passive woman will become aggressive if fighting to save the life of her child.

How to Tell if You're Passive Aggressive In nursing you will deal with all three types. Maybe you have  a Queen Bee on your unit. Maybe you are the Queen Bee!

Here’s how to tell which type you are.

How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive: Are You Passive ?

Passive people believe  that their needs and opinion are not as important as others. They feel weak and undeserving. They don’t rock the boat. They come across as agreeable and timid.

Afraid to say “No” or stand up for themselves, they allow others to make decisions for them. This doesn’t mean they agree with those decisions or that the decisions meet their needs; it means they subjugate their needs to others. It’s hard to tell where they stand.

Ashley is approached by her nurse manager.

“Ashley, we’re really short tonight. Can you stay over four hours?”

Ashley hesitates. She’s tired, her feet hurt, and she was hoping to see her boyfriend. She wants to say No and knows that they could find someone else, but she feels caught.

“Ashley, please. It would help out so much.”

Ashley quells her own feelings and says “Yes, OK.”

Passive people deny their feelings. “I’m not mad” “Whatever” “I’m fine” are phrases commonly used to avoid conflict and to not own their feelings. They will sulk, pout, withdraw, and give the silent treatment because they can still deny that they are hurt or angry. Inwardly they hold a grudge, and in time, the anger can build to an explosive rage.

How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive: Are You Aggressive?

Aggressive people get their needs met by trampling on others.

They are often loud and opinionated. Bossy, impatient, and argumentative, they dominate conversations. Interrupting is one of their most frequently used tactics. They don’t listen because their needs take priority over others. Alex is an aggressive personality and is a Charge Nurse. As Charge Nurse, his tendency to shoot from the hip and his need to be seen as an expert means that Alex’s  frequently wrong answers carry a bias of authority.

“Alex, do we lock PICC lines with heparin or saline?”


Alex in fact had not consulted the policy but prefers to give answers with impunity. In this case, he was wrong. If shown the policy, Alex will not accept blame but will profess surprise, disbelief or minimize his mistake. Related is What if Your Preceptor is a Bully.

How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive

Passive-aggressive people use maladaptive behaviors to get their needs met. Women are often socialized to use passive aggressive means.

Passive-aggressive personalities appear to be supportive and agreeable, but they are really about controlling/manipulating others through favors, flattery, and protecting.

They exhibit superficial self-confidence but in reality their self-esteem is low. They often “kiss up” to the boss to secure favor and perceived referent authority in order to control others.

Passive Aggressive people tend to:

  • Deliver a message and then not take responsibility for it or even deny it. “I was just kidding!” (Yes, and in every joke there is a grain of truth).  “That’s not what I meant!”
  • Give back-handed compliments “I like your hair color! The other one you know, made you look older, but this one is good.”
  • Blame others “Can’t you take a joke?”
  • Seek control. They hoard information, and lock up supplies.
  • Forget to do things. You may ask your nursing assistant to get vital signs on a patient. She appears to understand and nods slightly. In 15 minutes, you ask for the blood pressure and she replies “Oh, I didn’t get it yet. I forgot.”

Passive-aggressive people are not always immediately recognized as such in the workplace because their facial expressions do not match their feelings, and their motive is appearing to be co-operative while decidedly not being cooperative.

How to Tell if You’re Assertive

Assertive people get their needs met in a respectful manner and by asking for what they need.They say what they mean and own their feelings.

They value themselves and others. They do not allow others to are genuine.  They accept responsibility and seek others’ input on the job. Being assertive is essential to healthy boundaries and relationships.

We each choose multiple times a day to be passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive. We can choose to learn assertive behaviors. Over time, they become second nature. It can be uncomfortable to try new responses, but as Eleanor Roosevelt was credited with saying:

Do one thing every day that scares you



Related: 10 Tips to Start Your Job Right

Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth

Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question :) Or visit me at and StaffGarden where I also blog. Buzzzzzz…I’m a busy little bee !

How to tell if you're passive aggressive

Here’s how to recognize passive aggressive behavior in you and others

About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

2 Comments on How to Tell if You’re Passive Aggressive

  1. Jennifer Lyson-Soza RN // June 27, 2016 at 8:43 am // Reply

    Thank you for posting. I put out a bi-monthly newsletter and would love to post this in the newsletter, it that possible. You will get the credit due. Thanks

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