Ellie Strejlau

Be Assertive

Being passive aggressive is being unclear. Set your expectations early and often.
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Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

I’ve read multiple blog entries and I’ve been told this multiple times in my career, but it didn’t really “stick” until I had peers to speak with about it. I’m going to anonymize as much of this entry as possible because it’s an ongoing conversation with multiple people. I’m avoiding naming folks, not out of being passive aggressive myself, but with the end goal of warning others without hurting or outing someone. This is not a post to vent or complain, but to teach.

I had a very long conversation with some friends today about how some work-related things aren’t what they expected them to be and how no one explicitly told them what the thing would be like, or that something changed and they felt like a rug was pulled out from under their feet. The common theme turned out to be that whomever was managing their expectations decided to be passive aggressive thinking that they are shielding them from the reality of the thing. Turns out that if that person hadn’t been passive aggressive about the thing, my friends would have had a very different path, and a possibly much happier one.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. — Proverb

I want to reiterate here something I learned from my friend and former manager, Critter and, by proxy, Brené Brown. Clear is kind. Be assertive and be clear about your expectations.

More often than not, I’ve seen passive aggressiveness cause covert contracts rather than the other way around. Covert contracts are the idea that if no one explicitly says something will happen and someone does something hoping what they want will just come to them. If you want and expect certain things to happen, be assertive. Set the expectation explicitly. I’ve seen this happen with direct reports hoping for a promotion or merit increase and managers who expect certain responsibilities to be met. If you’re not assertive about this sort of thing, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Being passive aggressive with someone is much more harmful than being direct.

This remarkable tactic works for all relationships, including family and friends. Don’t beat around the bush when it’s time to host Thanksgiving dinner and you are wondering if someone will show up. Don’t hint. Be assertive. Call them and ask. For the person being invited, don’t sugar coat it and say you’ll try to be there. Be honest.

© 2021 Ellie Strejlau. All rights reserved, except disclaimers (below) and quotes (cited).

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