In a phone conversation with a friend recently, we were talking about a problem she was having. She wanted my advice.
I listened to her rant on and on (Sometimes, complaining helps release the negative energy. So it can be good. But you do want to know when to stop.) and then I had to interrupt her in mid-sentence.
"Did you hear what you just said?" I asked her. "Are you listening to yourself?"
There was quiet on the other end of the line.
Then she spoke up, "What do you mean?"
Without going into her personal issues here, her challenge involved passive-aggressive behavior. She was upset about how someone was treating her, but she wasn't being direct in her response. She was beating around the bush, though she didn't realize it. Instead of telling him point-blank, "No, that won't work for me" or "No, I can't do that right now" or "No, I'm not interested", she was telling him things like "I wish you wouldn't do that" or "That really doesn't work for me" and such, expecting him to "get it," to respond the way she wanted, without her having to actually say it. And when her conversation ended with this person, and he wound up getting from her what she didn't want him to have (her time, her money, whatever), she was upset with him. In all fairness, she was really upset with herself, for not taking care of her own needs properly.
I explained to her why her response needed to be more direct. Passive-aggressive behavior allows the person you're directing it towards to interpret your response in the way that works best for them. It's not evil. It's not mean-spirited. It's human. We all want to get our way, including me.
The reason we behave passive-aggressively--and yes, I've done it, many times, before I became aware of my behavior--is because we know what we want, but we don't know how to ask for it. That could mean we're too timid, we don't trust our own judgement, we think we might be perceived the wrong way if we are direct. Or, maybe we've just never learned the appropriate way to get our needs met.
This happens all the time in relationships of all kinds. A good way to know if it's happening with you is if you hear yourself or someone say to you in an exasperated tone, "I can't read your mind." It's true. They can't. You can't. It's virtually impossible, and it's actually dishonest and unfair.
If you want your relationships to work at the highest level of honesty, you have to be honest with yourself first. That means you may have to do some truth-seeking to find out exactly what it is you need or want from either yourself, another person, a service, or what have you. If you don't do that, you'll wind up as my friend felt--completely frustrated. And worse, she wanted it to be about him. Okay, maybe he wasn't listening to her words exactly. Maybe he did place his needs before hers. But the responsibility to get what she wants rests solely on her shoulders, not his.
It's so easy to project our feelings onto others. It's a much better idea to avoid that by taking responsibility and owning your own words...and to let that anger be about you. Be mad at yourself. Then, you can convict yourself, forgive yourself and alter your response to fit your needs. The conflict may have a better chance of righting itself this way.
Therefore, how you say things does matter.
Here are a few questions that might apply to you today:
Are you really in the relationship because you want to be there?
Are you really making that move because you want to do that?
Are you really taking the job because you choose to, or do you feel forced into it?
Be honest with yourself. Say no when you mean no, and yes when you mean yes. Don't leave room for someone else to interpret your answer. And there's no need for explanation, either. You don't owe explanations or excuses for your decisions. You just owe an honest response. That way, the person you're working with can move on or work around your schedule. You can do what you need to do. And progress can continue, ending up with the best results over all.
If you're now wondering if you are exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior in your relationships, here's a simple solution: The next time someone asks something of you, take time to consider your response carefully, trust your judgment, and then offer a direct and honest response.
You'll be glad you did.
All my best,