You know something is bothering your roommate. She hasn’t come out and said it, but she’s making derisive comments, canceling roomie dates and acting strangely. You assumed she’d bring up whatever is bothering her, but it’s been weeks and she still hasn’t said anything. What do you do?
Dealing with a passive-aggressive person can be very frustrating. As someone who grew up in a very open, honest family, I usually assume people will approach me with their problems if they have any. Unfortunately, not everyone is this direct.
God wants us to pursue peace and unity in our relationships. While it is wrong for friends and family to withhold their true feelings from the person who offended them, sometimes we have to be the ones to bring it up. Here are three things to do the next time you encounter a passive-aggressive situation.
1. Confront the Problem, Not the Person
Conflict is not a bad thing if the goal of it is resolution. If your friend has put off resolution by avoiding the problem, confront it with her. Take her aside and point out that you’ve noticed her attitude and comments and you want to have a discussion. But remember: Confront the problem, not the person. Be kind in your approach or she might shut down before the discussion even begins.
It’s good to have specific examples of what your friend is doing that indicates she has an issue with you. Give her those examples: “When you said/When you did X, what did you mean by that?” Communicate that you don’t want anything coming between you two, and that your goal in the conversation is to achieve peace.
2. Keep the Conversation on Track
Passive-aggressive people don’t like to be open about what bothers them, so it’s up to you to keep the conversation pointed in the correct direction. If she evades questions or tries to escape altogether, remind your friend of the goal: unity and peace. Communicate that your friendship will be hindered until she tells you what’s going on.
Don’t let the discussion descend into comparison or finger pointing. Rather than getting defensive or explaining every little reason why you did something, let your friend speak, then address her complaints specifically. Step away from your emotions and consider the facts.
3. Decide How to Proceed
Finally, decide what you’re going to do about the issue before the conversation ends. Don’t leave it open-ended. Before you leave, decide together what you will do to prevent further miscommunications. Encourage your friend to be clear about what bothers her. You can’t change anything if the offense is not communicated!
If your friend continues to act in this manner, pray for her and take a step back from the relationship. Of course, be honest with yourself, too—are you aggravating the problem with a certain behavior that is sinful or offensive? If not, your friend may have deeper spiritual problems that need healing, and praying is the best thing you can do.
Finally, if a one-on-one conversation doesn’t work to clear the air, follow the advice of Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus gives directions for how to deal with an offended brother:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
Remember your goal: unity and peace!