Communication Skills: Replace passive-aggressive “hostile questions” with constructive, assertive statements

Just what is passive-aggressive behavior??!!

Many people aren’t clear as to what “passive-aggressive” really means. To put it in the simplest of terms, when you engage in passive-aggressive behavior, it’s your intention to punish someone–or to be aggressive–but just not be up-front about it.

Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior
Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior

For example, putting a difficult customer “on hold” while you go have a cup of coffee is passive-aggressive, because instead of setting boundaries with your customers, you simply make them suffer.
A common passive-aggressive maneuver that many of us engage in is when we ask “hostile questions.” Hostile questions are not really questions at all; they’re statements thinly veiled by a question, and generally begin with a starter-phrase such as, “What were you thinking…” or “How did you think…” or “Why would you…”
For example, “Why would you talk to me like that in front of my employees?” is frequently simply a passive-aggressive way to say something that could have been assertive, such as, “When you talk to me like that in front of my employees I feel angry and betrayed because it undermines my authority with them.” Or, “How did you think it makes me feel when you stand me up for dinner. AGAIN?” is a passive-aggressive way to say, “When you make plans with me, then break them, I feel hurt and let down, because I love you, and count on you doing what you say you’ll do.”

Solution:  Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior.

The next time you are about to ask a “Hostile Question,” instead, try wrapping up your message in a “hamburger.” A hamburger is a simple verbal pattern that helps us engage in assertive communication, and it goes like this: “When you…I feel…because…” and you’ll see it used in the two examples above. Try this and watch the difference in results! Even if you can’t articulate your feelings perfectly, you’ll be trying to be assertive rather than aggressive, and nothing is more disarming or productive than assertive, straight-forward communication.

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Dan O’Connor has been leading the communication training industry for more than 20 years. Through his bestselling books, his #1 rated YouTube channel, and his online courses, Dan transforms the global conversation and the lives of countless individuals every day.

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