Case Study – the passive aggressive text


Published: 1 Sep 2018

The 'Pure Mechanics' of Communication

Why would someone send a text to someone in the next room about something that had ‘pinged’ them?

Emotional Ping – this is what you feel when someone does or says something to you. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it isn’t. If you don’t send the ping back – it stays with you, in resentment, judgement or fear.

Have you ever had this happen to you?

Someone I know recently (let’s call her Fiona) got a text from her flatmate Julie (name changed) while she was in the next room that said, “Next time you move my stuff can you please put it back……..and YOU need to wash the dishes!”

This was indicative of the relationship thus far. Weeks of tension, underhanded comments or text communication.

The point is, they were both there, less than 2 metres from each other! That could have been a simple face to face non-confrontational conversation that went something like, ” Hey Fiona, I understand that in a small space you sometimes have to move my stuff, but could you please put it back when you’ve done? I’d appreciate that.”

Then Fiona would have got the ping – not Julie. Fiona would have known Julie was frustrated, and probably thought more about it next time she moved something. But, without anything being said, Julie was merely working on the assumption or perception that Fiona knew her actions were annoying (which she did not!)

Human beings are complex, we all have our own ‘modus operandi’, expectations, and benchmarks for how things happen, how we feel about them, and more importantly – what we do about it.

By the time you have got to the stage where you are saying ‘YOU need to do the dishes’ you have likely missed loads of opportunities to be pro-active. For example if there is a roster, lock that in at the beginning, don’t leave it vague, don’t just put a notice up and hope someone will notice it. If the person knows they need to do the dishes but hasn’t been – be pro-active, and say that before you leave them for the day.

When we leave things unsaid and don’t work on the principle of ‘see it, say it’ the ping doesn’t go anywhere. It stays and festers. Leading to resentment and passive aggressive behaviour in some form. In the case of these two individuals it took the form of passive aggressive texts, even though a conversation would have been more logical. Julie also talked to other people about Fiona behind her back, saying things that were very unkind – and not true.

So what is the motivation?

Sometimes it is jealously, when one person perceives another to be ‘better’ than them, more confident, attractive etc and this is a way they can feel more in control.

Sometimes it is pre-conditioned, when you have not been brought up in an open communication style, how would you have learned the lesson of simply talking to people if you see or hear something that doesn’t resonate with you.

Sometimes it is intentional – enough said. Yes, there are people out there like that, on a power trip, narcissistic tendencies.

So what do you do if you get the text? There are a number of options, and depending on your own communication style and pre-conditioning you may go different ways.

  1. Ignore it, and see it for the drama it is. Not recommended as normally it makes it worse. The person waiting for the reaction just gets more angry and belligerent.
  2. Engage head on. Fiona had done this in previous weeks when she heard Julie had been talking about her behind her back. She engaged with her in person and asked Julie what she wanted to say to her. Julie looked mortified, went red, clammed up, and said sorry. She was very shocked to have been put on the spot of being accountable for her behaviour.
  3. Send a text back saying, “happy to catch up in person about this” to let the person know that texts of that manner are not acceptable to you and you have no fear of face to face conversataion.

Long story short? It would never need to get to the text stage if everyone knows their expectations through clear, open communication. It would never need to get to resentment stage if you ‘see it, say it’.

So ditch the passive aggressive texts and say it out loud. Use your words. Be open.

If you are the person receiving the texts, then be clear that is not your style and encourage the person to simply tell you what is on their mind – even though that might be scary at first for them.

If you are receiving the text and you can actually take the message on board, but just don’t like the way the message is delivered,  then take your ego out of the way and say “Thank you for pointing that out to me” (and mean it). Then you are on the way to clearer, more authentic communication.

And remember – with communication it is rarely ‘too late’. It’s never too late to be a better communicator. You may not be able to change something that has already happened, or get a different outcome, but you can control how you communicate about it, and how it affects others you are communicating with/to.

Keep the ‘ping’s at bay. See it, say it.



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