Archive for the ‘Difficult Conversations’ Category

Passive-Aggressive? Here’s Why

Why Are People Passive-Aggressive?-2Passive-aggressiveness, sometimes known as the “nice-nasty,” is communication (behavior) that is “nicety-nice” on the surface. However, the underlying message or intent is mean, rude, nasty, and/or manipulative.  Being on the receiving end of passive-aggressiveness can be frustrating, confounding, hurtful, and can even be the reason to end a relationship, quit a job, or even retaliate.

Passive-aggressiveness takes many forms.

  • Sarcasm
  • Ghosting
  • The Silent Treatment
  • Sabotage
  • Withholding (time, praise, intimacy, opportunity)
  • Backhanded Compliments
  • Hinting

And many, many more.  What these behaviors all have in common is that they allow people who aren’t comfortable being openly aggressive get what they want under the guise of still trying to please others or having “plausible deniability” if called on their behavior.  For example, if someone uses sarcasm and they are confronted by the recipient, they can claim “that’s not what I meant” or even resort to gaslighting (intentionally trying to make the other person doubt themselves or the validity of their perceptions and feelings) with something like “geez – you are too sensitive.”  The passive-aggressive person wants their way, but they also want everyone to still like them and/or not be held accountable for their aggressive behavior.

I am often asked after delivering keynote speeches or programs on communication “Pamela, why are people passive-aggressive?”  Some of the more obvious answers are:

  • They are often insecure.
  • They may have poor communication skills.  They don’t know how to be assertive. (Important note:  assertive and aggressive are very different.)
  • They may struggle with jealously (personal or professional.)
  • They may feel out of control or a need to gain (or regain) power.
  • They may have learned it “works” for them.
  • It allows them to stay in their “comfort zone” and avoid the accountability assertiveness requires.

In addition to these reasons, here are a few less widely talked about, and yet still prevalent reasons.

Anger is often socially unacceptable (especially for women) whereas sugarcoated anger can be socially acceptable. Many people have been taught to “play nice” or that to “be liked” is a top priority. Some people are so uncomfortable with conflict, confrontation and other negative interactions that they will attempt to “keep the peace at any cost.”  While they may feel anger, they are not comfortable expressing it directly for fear of social censure. When the anger gets sugarcoated, that social censure is typically less.

Assertiveness can be simultaneously empowering and terrifying. Passive-aggressiveness can be easier and feel safer than assertiveness.  Being assertive and asking for what you want or need by being direct and clear about your expectations can feel risky. What if your request is denied? What if the recipient of your request belittles your request? Or gets upset? By choosing passive-aggressiveness (indirect communication) individuals give themselves a more palatable explanation for another’s behavior.  For example, if you are frustrated by your colleague’s constant tardiness to meetings you run and you “drop hints” (passive-aggressive)  about their arrival time and despite the hints they continue to arrive late, you can tell yourself “perhaps I wasn’t clear” or “maybe they didn’t understand.”  However, if you opt for the assertive approach and directly (and politely)  tell your colleague that their being late to regularly scheduled meetings you run is frustrating and ask them to be on time (an assertive approach) they may choose not to be on time anyway. With this assertive approach, you can no longer tell yourself “perhaps they didn’t understand.” Now the remaining explanations are less palatable such as “my frustration must not really matter to them.” Sometimes these “less palatable” explanations can be hurtful. Hence why assertiveness can sometimes be terrifying.

Passive-aggressiveness can feel powerful. Because it is often manipulative and can be disconcerting to others, passive-aggressiveness can feel powerful. Passive-aggressiveness is also disrespectful to others. The passive-aggressive person is taking away the other person’s power. It can be a way for an insecure person to gain some of the power and control they feel they are lacking.  Assertiveness, on the other hand, is mutually respectful (power is shared.) The passive-aggresive person doesn’t want to share that power.

Passive-aggressiveness can be easily rationalized. The passive-aggressive person is very adept at justifying their behavior. It is their brain’s way of arguing for their comfort zone. Any twinges of remorse or regret are quickly squashed by an inner or story that negates the necessity for change or personal growth.

While we cannot stop the passive-aggressive person from being passive-aggressive, it is helpful to have a better understanding of what passive-aggressive is and why people use it. For tools and information about how to deal with passive-aggressive people, check out this on-demand webinar. And, if you are looking to build your own assertiveness skills, click here.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.


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The Biggest Conflict Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

by Pamela Jett, CSP

Yelling cartoon

Has this ever happened to you? You are in the midst of a crucial conversation and the other person becomes very emotional or intense. They might even begin to yell or behave in a hostile fashion. Most people will the get drawn into a discussion of this inappropriate behavior.  The conversation may then continue along the lines of :

  • “Stop yelling at me.”
  • “I’m not yelling!”
  • “Yes, you are!”
  • “Well, you don’t listen!

The conversation, which may originally have been about a crucial business or personal issue, has now morphed into a “conversation about how you are having the conversation.”  This is known as meta-commuication, communication about communication.  And, while it has it’s place, it is a poor choice to meta-communicate right in the middle of conflict and confrontation.

The next time someone engages in an (inappropriate) emotional outburst during conflict, resist the temptation to start talking about how they are communicating and stay focused on the core issue as much as possible. This doesn’t mean to let others bully or to continue to be mean, rude and nasty. However, if you can use other assertive techniques first (like the feel, felt, found technique) instead of calling out their behavior, you stand a greater chance of reaching resolution on the core issue.

Avoid the biggest conflict mistake you perhaps didn’t know you were making. Avoid meta-communication in the midst of conflict and stick to the issue at hand.

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Be Relentless When Dealing with Difficult People

by Pamela Jett, CSP

Today i am happyWhen dealing with difficult people, be relentless. Relentlessly positive, that is. The focus of my recent webinar “Snipers, Steamrollers, and Chronic Complainers” was on words to choose and words to lose in order to train difficult people that their difficult behavior won’t be rewarded. In addition to knowing what to say to difficult people, attitude also matters.

A relentlessly positive attitude is one of the best ways to communicate with a difficult person. For example, when a complainer complainers, be relentlessly positive and respond with something good about the situation. When a whiner whines “is it Friday yet” respond with the relentlessly positive “I plan on having a good day today!”

Choose to be positive in the face of their negativity. While this may sound naive, “Pollyanna” or even unrealistic, try it. It sure beats being negative!

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#1 Way to Deal With Difficult People

Java Printingby Pamela Jett, CSP

Difficult people are everywhere. There are exploders, snipers, steamrollers, and chronic complainers in our personal lives and in our professional lives. While it might be possible in our personal lives to avoid difficult people to a degree, it is virtually impossible to do so at work.

To make things even more challenging, we can’t make a difficult person not be difficult. What is helpful is to understand the #1 reason difficult people are difficult.

Difficult people are difficult because it is working for them.

They are getting some sort of reward or payoff with their difficult behavior. Perhaps it is attention. Perhaps it is a sense of power of control. Perhaps their reward is that they get their way.

While we can’t make them not be difficult, we can train the difficult person that while their difficult behavior might be working with others, it does not work with us. Ask yourself “what is the reward they are seeking?” And, then decide if you are willing to give it. Sometimes it is a simple as deciding not to commiserate with a chronic complainer or to not explode back (or give them control) when an exploder explodes.

For more techniques to deal with difficult people, check out the up-coming webinar “Snipers, Steamrollers, and Chronic Complainers” at


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Is Lack of Conflict Stalling Your Career?

by Pamela Jett, CSP

Conflict is inevitable in even the best workplaces. When people see things differently, have competing agendas, or are not in total accord regard decisions, conflict occurs.  While conflict inevitable, it is not necessarily bad. Healthy conflict can create better outcomes, more productive business practices, and even stronger relationships.

tug of warThe key term is “healthy.” When conflict is not handled appropriately, we can experience negative outcomes both organizationally and relationally. It is the fear of negative outcomes that can keep some professionals in conflict “avoidance” mode. They seek to placate or to create peace at any price. Or, they will avoid conflict all together or stay silent while others engage. While choosing your battles carefully is sound career advice, it can be a poor choice to rarely (or even never) engage in constructive or healthily conflict.

You might be stalling your career success if you rarely speak up or defend your point of view. Here are some of the possible consequences for choosing to rarely (on never) rock the boat or engage in conflict:

  •  You may be seen as lacking backbone and not ready to take on more responsibility.
  •  You may be viewed as someone who is not engaged or doesn’t really care.
  •  Your co-workers may resent that you don’t seem to care or are not committed.
  •  Your leader may assume you can’t see the big picture and are not ready to be promoted.
  •  Your reputation as someone who is weak or a pushover may may it harder to accomplish tasks.
  •  You may be viewed as someone who is not a team player.
  •  You might seethe with inner resentment that can come out passive-aggressivley and damage your career.
  •  Crucial issues, problems, or situations may be ignored and you may be held accountable.

These are just some of the negative consequences. Feel free to leave others in the comments.

Savvy professionals know that some things are worth engaging in conflict over. And, they hone their assertive conflict management skills to make engaging in healthy conflict easier and more productive. Remember, choose your battles wisely AND be willing to engage when it is worth it!

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When Name Calling Works: Tips For Better Self-Talk (part 3 of 3)

by Pamela Jett, CSP

Keys for Better Self-Talk During Emotionally Charged Situations

Key#3 (part 3 of 3)

Have you ever tried to calm yourself down in an emotionally charged situation by using self-talk such as “I am calm” or “I am patient?” If so, great job! That means you are using key #1 (desired behavior) and key #2 (present tense.)

child yellingHere is key #3. Call yourself by name! The latest research shows that if you call yourself by name, such as “Pamela, you are calm” Your self-talk is even more effective. Case study after case study shows that superstars in sports, business, and even a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Malala) call themselves by name when trying to stay calm, cool, and collected. Try it!

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Self Talk For Emotional Control (part 2)

Keys for Better Self-Talk During Emotionally Charged Situations

by Pamela Jett

Key #2 (part 2 of 3)

We previously learned that self-talk during emotionally charged situations is more effective if you plant the desired behavior (I am calm) in your mind instead of the undesired behavior (I am not angry.)

i am strongHere is key #2. Make your self-talk in the present tense. For example, instead of saying to yourself “I will be patient,” say, “I am patient.” Even if you don’t feel patient in the moment, tell yourself you are.

Using “present tense” self-talk helps you engage in the desired behavior right at that very moment.

Key #3 coming soon!

For more tools to stay calm, cool, and collected during emotionally charged situations, register for Pamela’s webinar series Conflict and Confrontation: Critical Skills at or by clicking here.

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“You Don’t Understand” – Words to Choose and Words to Lose

jettlogo2Have you ever found yourself in a difficult conversation feeling frustrated? Misunderstood? Devalued? These negative emotions can often lead to communication choices that are counterproductive. For example, have you ever said (or, let’s be candid, maybe even yelled) “you don’t understand” during a difficult conversation? Not surprisingly, this can trigger defensiveness and hostility in others.

Here are a few thoughts about what to say instead. First, check yourself. Are you sure they don’t understand? Might some of your frustration stem from them not agreeing? Sometimes, we accuse people of not understanding or not listening to us when the truth is that they likely understand, but don’t agree.

Next, choose to communicate in a way that accurately expresses what you are feeling in a non-accusatory way such as:

  • “I’m not feeling heard.”
  • “I’m not feeling valued.”
  • “I’m feeling frustrated.”


  • “We see this differently.”
  • “We have different perspectives at play here.”

While none of these options will work in every single difficult conversation, they are alternatives to the accusatory “you don’t understand” and can often move a conversation forward in a less hostile, more productive way.

For more of the words to choose and the words to lose, read Pamela’s book “Communicate to Keep ‘Em” available here.

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Looking for a Speaker in 2015?


Get a head start on booking speakers for your 2015 conferences and events.  It’s not to early to starting thinking about how to give leaders and team members alike the communication tools they need to be better leaders, enhance employee engagement, deal with difficult people, and drive results.  Pamela Jett specializes in:

  • Keynotes that are energetic, humorous, and loaded with content that get your meeting off to a positive start and generate tons of “hallway conversations.”
  • Breakout sessions that are interactive and loaded with practical tools to solve real world problems.
  • Training sessions that are tailored to meet your specific needs and challenges.

Here is what a few satisfied clients have to say.

“Your speaker evaluations were off the wall! According to 3,000 attendees, your marks were excellent – probably the best speaker evaluations we have ever had!
–Susan Forrester, Central CA Women’s Conf.

“Our off-site was the very best ever! Your presentation was a large part of the success. You made an effort to understand our group’s unique needs and you tailored a session that was just what I was looking for!”     –Phil Marquis, Ameriprise Financial

“Pamela was absolutely wonderful and well received by all! She started the conference on such a positive note – and a sure way to guarantee its success. As I anticipated, her educational session was standing room only. Speaking personally, the information I took away from both her presentations was worth its weight in gold! And more importantly, her advice and suggestions are realistic.”     –Linda Berkerian, NAACO

To book Pamela or to get more information, contact Aimee at 866.726.5388.

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Leader’s Toolkit for Difficult and Disciplinary Conversations – Webinar

Leaders of every level, from first time supervisors to senior executives, agree that one of their most difficult responsibilities is having disciplinary or difficult conversations. In fact, many leaders often ignore problems and hope that they will go away (and, of course, they rarely do.) Having language patterns and tools to specifically handle these tough conversations is what every leader needs and what this program provides. Loaded with practical communication tools for senior level executives to first-time supervisors and even parents, this webinar will give you practical tools you can put to work immediately and relieve some of the stress associated with disciplinary conversations.


CALL 866.726.5388 FOR GROUP RATE (2 or more)

Get the leadership mindset to make disciplinary conversations easier

  • Learn to differentiate between “can’t do” and “won’t do” issues.
  • Discover why people don’t do what they are supposed to do and how to ignite positive behavior change.
  • Master the art of staying calm during difficult conversations.

Master communication tactics and language patterns to prepare for tough conversations

  • Discover the 4-step process to request behavior change.
  • Learn how to use the “BCA technique” as a template for almost any difficult conversation.
  • Find out why you ought to stop feeding carrots to stick people.

Learn how to manage tense conversations with difficult people

  • Discover what to say/do when tears flow.
  • Learn what never to say during a disciplinary conversation – hint… it’s not what you think.
  • Discover the power of silence.
  • Learn how to keep records and notes so that you can hold people accountable.
  • Master the art of open ended questions to gain cooperation.

When: Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm PST; 1:00 pm MTN; 2:00 pm CST; 3:00 pm EST


CALL 866.726.5388 FOR GROUP RATE (2 or more)

Additional Inclusive Webinar Materials

Participant note-taking guide for use during the event and for reference post event.
Access to regular communication tools and techniques via Pamela’s Words Matter blog.
The complete audio recording of the event.

Who Should Attend

Leaders, Managers, and Supervisors
Project Managers
Team Leads

FAST – Get right down to business with no time wasted.

This is a content-rich experience without fluff or filler.

CONVENIENT – Learn right at your desk.

No expensive travel, no time out of the office, and no time wasted. Can’t make the live webinar? Watch the recording when the time is right for you.


This experience will provide time and money saving tools to use immediately.


Priced at just $79, this is a fraction of the cost of other high-priced events or seminars. Plus, there is no additional travel expense. Ideal for multiple listeners too!


CALL 866.726.5388 FOR GROUP RATE (2 or more)

What’s Next?

October 16: What Not to Say: A Guide for Keeping Your Foot Out of Your Mouth

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