I was in a meeting, when a male member of my team shared an opinion that was totally and completely incorrect. It contradicted scientific research, and more importantly, contradicted what I teach and was causing confusion among our students. To be clear, I was the senior faculty member in this situation. I was the expert. So, I corrected him. I, politely but firmly, told him to stay in his lane.
When the meeting ended, I had hives from my collarbone to my chin. I immediately sent a text to my friend, who was also in the meeting, asking him if I came down too hard with my critique. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone,” “Was what I said ok?”
What the hell? Why was I reacting this way?
I am an actress. I have sung by myself in front of thousands of people, by choice. I have missed holidays, birthdays, and my little brother’s college graduation to be on stage, speaking and singing in front of people who paid a lot of money to be there watching me. I teach actors and singers at the university level, in the same program that trained Sandra Bullock. Obviously, I wasn’t there as I am several years younger than Sandy, but you see my point.
Me, an actress and professor with advanced degrees and over a decade of experience, who teaches an 8-week course on overcoming performance anxiety, sat there flustered and flushed after a thirty-minute meeting where I had to tell a 25 year old fetus to stay in his lane. Why did I care so damn much?
I cared, because I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to be respected.
This need was so strong, so ingrained, that I didn’t even recognize it existed. But there it was. In fact, upon further examination, this particular brand of crazy showed up on the reg in the form of my good friend, passive aggression. In the words of Addison Montgomery-Shepherd, “There is a land called Passive Aggressiva, and I am it’s queen.”
While I was too scared to rock the boat face-to-face, I was a master of smiling sweetly while simultaneously eviscerating my opponent in my mind. That or a vigorous, head-nodding assurance that everything was “just fine” followed by the double finger and a silent, “Fuuuuuck Youuuuu” once I’d retreated to the safety of my locked office door.
Sound familiar? I thought so. Recently, one of my best girlfriends and I were discussing her new boss:
“She’s just so full of herself.”
“I’m so uncomfortable being around her. She’s so rude. Last week, when I posted a picture of our new trampoline, she called my daughter a spoiled brat on facebook. First of all, she’s not a brat. She’s a very kind, empathetic little girl. Second of all, the trampoline was a reward for something we’ve worked on for months with lots of tantrums and tears. And, you know what, even if it wasn’t, it’s none of her business what I buy my daughter. If I want to buy her a pony because it’s Tuesday I can and it’s none of her goddamn business!”
“Plus, I spent like, a month, writing that report, and she couldn’t find half-an-hour to read it? Really? Does she not value my work at all?”
“Did you ask her that?”
“No, I’m extra nice to her. She has no idea what’s going on in my mind. Sometimes I even feel bad for being so shitty to her in my head. Ok, I’ve got to go, I’m meeting her for lunch.”
To be clear, this is not healthy behavior. Now, I am not advocating cussing out your boss or very publicly telling the bitchy mom at playgroup exactly where she can stick her dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free snacks, but not voicing your true feelings isn’t helping anyone. Not the object of your aggression, who has no idea that their behavior is causing you distress and therefore, no opportunity to change it. And certainly not you, who now spends the evenings reliving a stressful situation over-and-over, stuck in an emotional shithole of your own making, while Becky and Rhonda go for post-work tapas and tequila blissfully unaware that anything is wrong.
In her article: "Passive Aggressive? This one's for you." for www.bustle.com writer and mentor Cynthia Kane addresses how to stop this negative behavior for good.
Recognize the Behavior: when passive aggressive behavior happens, nip it in the bud. Sure, you're trying to avoid conflict, but in doing so you're coming across as cold, manipulative, and insensitive. Being direct is lesson confusing and allows for stimulating dialogue (to fix the issue) rather than frustrating disconnections.
Believe in Your Words: If we believe in ourselves and what we have to say and respect ourselves enough to show how we feel, then it is easier for us to become more assertive in how we respond to others.
Make Yourself a Priority: If we believe in ourselves and what we have to say and respect ourselves enough to show how we feel, then it is easier for us to become more assertive in how we respond to others.