Managers: Interrupting Employees is Passive Aggressive

BY Kathy Crosett
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In meeting with your team members, do you find it hard to be quiet and listen? Some sales managers have this problem, which can be seen by employees as a passive aggressive tendency. Other times, sales managers say the wrong thing or say it in the wrong way.

Passive Aggressive Conversational Habits

In her post for Ethos3, Amy Boone describes some conversational habits that could be negatively impacting your ability to effectively communicate with others. If a team member is describing a problem they’re having and you frequently interrupt them, you’re trying to control the conversation. Maybe you think you know what they are going to say, or you want to hurry them along so you’re not late for your next meeting. The passive aggressive unspoken message you’re sending is that your employee's thoughts and concerns aren’t important to you. Once your team member gets that impression, they won’t share much more with you.

We also think we know exactly what to say. Justin Bariso, in an Inc. column, relates the important advice shared by comedian Craig Ferguson on this topic. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this need to be said by me?
  • Does this need to be said by me now?”

When a team member is fessing up about a mistake they made, don’t make things worse by being passive aggressive. Don’t remind them that they made a similar mistake recently. And definitely don’t mention that mistake at this time. Wait for a better time to bring up general performance issues.

And as for Ferguson’s last point, think about whether you are the right person to make a comment to someone about what they have or haven’t done. Is this person in your group? If so, are they your direct report? 

Consider what you want to accomplish by having the comment made. If you’re praising someone, they might appreciate being acknowledged by a company leader. Make sure you keep the direct supervisor in the loop. If you’ve observed a problem with performance or behavior, don’t talk with the team member unless there’s an immediate safety concern. Instead, talk with the person’s supervisor. The supervisor may already have a plan in place for improving the team member’s performance. You won’t want to undermine their authority in a passive aggressive way by butting in.

Be Quiet and Listen — And Mind Your Facial Expressions

Have you paid attention to your facial expressions during a conversation? If you don’t maintain a poker face, consider working on it. Too many of us habitually frown during our conversations. We may have let our attention wander and be thinking about something else. The other person in the conversation will automatically assume they’ve said something to cause the frown.

Part of your facial expression includes making eye contact. If you avoid looking at the other person during a conversation, they’ll think you’re trying to avoid them or a difficult subject that you need to bring up. On the other hand, staring at the other person, especially if you’re not blinking, can be interpreted as passive aggressive. 

Focus on your unspoken behavior, especially your facial expressions, when you’re meeting with team members. And think about what you’re going to say before you let the wrong words come out of your mouth. Most importantly, be quiet and listen. This conscious effort on your part will improve the effectiveness of your communications.