Passive aggression

Passive-aggression is emotional cowardice and I hate it.

I get that being open and honest with other people is hard, I really do. But there can really be no excuse for forcing people to try and read your mind. Anger is a fundamental part of the human experience but channeling that energy in a mindless way is such a waste.

Sometimes other people do things that annoy you. People can be lazy, vindictive, ignorant or selfish. Their actions might seem utterly incomprehensible or simply insane, but nothing is solved by responding with a mean spirit and a closed mind. Often we can feel like the actions of others take on some sort of grander meaning, but feeling like this is often more of a reflection on our own mental state. Sometimes someone leaving the toilet seat up is just someone leaving the toilet seat up.

So far I feel like I'm not too bad at managing this type of behaviour, but I think it could still be easy for me in the future to slip in to using passive-aggressive ways of (not) expressing my feelings on certain issues. I consider myself highly susceptible: I'm mostly a Type A personality, sort of a neat freak, organised and process-focused. I consider these all signs that I might be predisposed to act in this way, but I think I've found a way to understand it and control it.

In each and every situation in our lives we have our own set of expectations: how we think things are going to be or what the idealised version of a situation is. In a situation where you have to deal with the same people on a regular basis, everyone has a fairly divergent set of unspoken expectations about all the things that matter to them. And because these expectations are largely unspoken, we are left with the process of trial-and-error to try to establish how any one person feels about a given behaviour.

Imagine that a new person begins working in your office and is allocated the seat next to yours. You don't know whether they will be annoyed by the loud crunching of your apple or the way they might feel about the way you informally banter with your more familiar co-workers sitting across from you. Similarly, this new person is going through a similar process - not just with the person they are now sitting next to but with everyone other person in the office and with the general processes and culture as well of the workplace as well.

This process is often largely unspoken and in the beginning is generally managed within the constraints of 'manners', 'politeness' and 'civility'. I use quotation marks not to devalue these concepts but to underline that they are just generalised sets of expectations that cultures broadly agree upon to minimise the risk of embarrassment or offence in the early stages of personal relationships. In a situation such as this example, it is likely that in the beginning both parties would act well within the confines of 'good manners' until, provided the relationship developed in such a way, some of the more rigid or formal aspects of these rules can be relaxed.

It's fascinating, really: we do this almost entirely unconsciously every day. In the beginning, without knowing what the other person expects of us, we act within the more formal guidelines of society before gradually dismantling them as we become more comfortable with the other person. But we can never completely understand all of another person's expectations, and because this process is so fluid and imprecise, sometimes people can act unexpectedly out of those bounds and we can do things that end up being out of the bounds of the expectations of others.

It is really important to not leave people guessing as to what our feelings are if something means a lot to us. The way that humans negotiate these understandings is so mysterious that often it makes sense to speak frankly to people about the things that you would like to see changed. One of the signs of the health of a relationship you have with another person is the capacity to have a open and honest conversation with them about differences in expectations and come to terms with how to manage those differences.

Anger is a perfectly legitimate way to feel about lots of things; it is the way we choose to channel that emotional energy that so often turns that anger into a problem. I believe that there are many ways in which anger can be harnessed in a positive way to lead to extremely positive outcomes, particularly if it is managed skilfully and warily. Like I said before, the way we respond to situations that induce anger tells us more about our own behaviour and mind state than it does about the behaviour of others. To understand the way we respond when we are angry is to better understand ourselves.