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Edition 135 – Passive Aggressive

Every business owner I speak with, bar none, considers dealing with staff their number one headache. Not finance. Not marketing. Not technology. Staff.

I’ve long held the belief that 80% of the reason why staff are unhappy in the workplace is nothing to do with your workplace and everything to do with what is happening in the other 128 hours per week. I know that statement upsets some people because it is supposed to be all about being warm and fuzzy with your staff. However, in over 30 years of experience of dealing with my own staff and helping my family business clients deal with their’s, the common denominator amongst staff dissatisfaction is predominantly their non-work life.

Now, that leaves 20% of your staff’s dissatisfaction relating to what is happening inside your business every day. Here’s my other big call – 80% of that can generally be boiled down to Passive Aggressive personalities in the workplace. Whether they are the owners, managers or the staff, the Passive Aggressive types are nothing short of destructive inside your family business.

In my 30 years of working with family businesses, here’s the sort of behaviours I’ve seen from Passive Aggressive types:

  1. Dealing with co-workers via email only – even when they are only two desks apart.
  2. Rudeness towards new recruits.
  3. Contempt for co-workers and clients and their skills or knowledge.
  4. An elevated sense of skills confidence.
  5. A disdain for any opinion counter to their own.
  6. A refusal to take on new work when there is process or technological change underway in the business.

As owners and managers of family businesses, we generally handle the personality aspects of these individuals very poorly for a simple reason – by and large, they are usually good at what they do. That means, we turn a blind eye to their poor attitude out of respect for the fact they get the job done. And, as owners and managers, the key is to get the job done, out the door and billed so the wheels of business keep turning over, isn’t it?

The problem with this weak attitude from management is that whenever they turn a blind eye, spot fires are being lit inside your business, with the Passive Aggressives holding both the fuel and the lighter. Here’s what I’ve observed where this behaviour ends up:

  1. Eventually, the complete blanking of other staff leads to bullying.
  2. New staff leave as they find it hard to settle into a “clicky” workplace.
  3. There is a reduced level of co-operation amongst all staff.
  4. The Passive Aggressive doesn’t grow their skill set, so tends to rest on their laurels of what they formerly did well – with the emphasis on “formerly”.
  5. They refuse to do certain work.
  6. They dictate when they will work, what work they will be doing and how they do it.

As the owner or manager of a family business, you have two options:

  1. Front them about their behaviour and take the ascendency. Invariably, Passive Aggressives are generally too weak and will either back down or get out completely. When you do this, you need to be firm and dispassionate and not apologise for your stance.
  2. Alternately, accept that you have lost control of your business and that it will never truly realise the potential you saw in it – and won’t provide the financial, lifestyle and professional rewards that your had originally hoped for.

Today, when you head into your family business, have a think about whether you have Passive Aggressives working inside of it. If you do, think very seriously about the cost to your family business of not confronting that behaviour and the long term consequences it creates

This Week’s Tip

If someone is deficient in their skills, you can always invest in training them up. If someone is deficient in their attitude, you will never overcome that – only they can, at a time of their own choosing, if ever.”