Do You Have a Passive-Aggressive Procurement Colleague?

If someone in your Procurement team is passive-aggressive, there are certain dos and don’ts to observe – here’s what to do

In procurement, we’d all love it if we were surrounded by colleagues who could also be our best friends, and if our stakeholders shared our passions and opinions. But, sadly, we all know this isn’t always the case. Procurement departments – and professional environments – have their fair share of psychopaths and narcissists

They also have their fair share of people who are passive-aggressive. 

Most of us know what passive-aggressive feels like, but what actually is it? A colleague or boss who is passive-aggressive is someone who is pleasant, even agreeable, to your face, but then the exact opposite elsewhere. For example, a stakeholder that is always cordial to you, but then throws you or your work under the bus in a meeting, or acts in a way that undermines your reputation or work in other ways. It could even be a colleague who seems enthusiastic about an idea, but then completely ghosts you when you need something from them. 

Often, the motivation for such behaviours is a fear of conflict or a crisis of confidence on behalf of the other person. Nonetheless, their behaviour can be a cause of great frustration, and can even be damaging to your career. 

So, what should you do if this is all sounding too familiar? 

Stop and reflect 

One universal truth of all workplaces is that we’re all different. We all bring different levels of emotional intelligence to work, for example, and we also all have different communication styles. So, before you label a colleague as passive-aggressive and seek to make amends, it’s important to consider the whole picture. 

If you suspect that someone is being passive-aggressive, it’s important to keep a log of your interactions. Look for trends in their communication and behaviour: could it be that they are stressed for any reason? Could you be overreacting or misinterpreting what they say? If you only observe behaviours in certain situations, could something else be going on?

If you do establish a pattern of passive-aggressive behaviour, ensure that you litmus test what you witness with your colleagues. Ask them what they thought of your interactions with that person and see whether there’s a match between what you feel and what they observe. 

Follow up in writing 

A passive-aggressive colleague may seem enthusiastic about your idea, but then not provide you with the resources or information you need to bring it to a fruition. However, a forgetful, busy or distracted colleague may do the same thing. So, how can you tell which type of colleague you have?

If you believe you are witnessing passive-aggressive behaviour, one important step to take is to follow up in writing to ensure there are no misunderstandings. For example, if you have been given instructions to do something (or if you yourself have made a request), then follow this up with an email clarifying what’s expected, by whom, and by when. 

This way, if there’s ever an issue, you can point to the email as evidence of what was agreed. 

Avoid gossip 

In life, the saying goes that a problem shared is a problem halved. At work, though, this isn’t always the case, especially if you are tempted to gossip about your passive-aggressive colleague. 

Sharing your frustrations about someone at work can feel like freeing, but ultimately, it might be anything but. Workplaces have thin walls, and digital communication can, unfortunately, be saved forever. For this reason, there’s a risk that if you are complaining about someone, they might find out … and this is a great way to break trust and further erode your relationship with that person. 

Instead of gossiping, try to think of ways that you might build your relationship with that person. Creating a stronger relationship may mean that you can both be more transparent about how you feel and what’s going on. 

Ultimately, passive-aggressive people do exist in many workplaces. If the behaviour is becoming untenable, consider letting your boss or HR representative know and they can help you take meaningful action. 

Have you ever worked with someone who was passive-aggressive? What did you do about it? Let us know in the comments below.