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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Oh, the feels, right? We’re swimming in them. We empathize, listen and experience the roller coaster emotions of our volunteers, our clients and our staff all the while living our own emotion-filled lives. The last thing we need is a ride full of destructive emotions.

Have you experienced these passive-aggressive behaviors?

  • staff make snide comments about volunteers’ abilities
  • emails are copied to department heads in a tattle-tale way
  • lack of volunteers is a scapegoat for poor planning
  • staff make side comments about your management

How do we get off this ride? I finally got tired of a few passive aggressive staff who routinely dragged me onto their cart of fun because their manipulative behavior left me tense and angry and unable to empathize with my volunteers. So, I refused to ride along by using these 5 ways to combat passive-aggressive behavior.

Check your emotions and ask why. Why are some folks passive-aggressive? To deflect feelings of inadequacy? To make you act out their anger? To manipulate? Remember, a snarky comment is their way to make you defensive. Don’t go there. Be neutral and professional. Don’t give the passive-aggressive person satisfaction and they will seek other prey. Instead, calmly ask, “why did you say volunteer Ann is always late, and then you rolled your eyes. If this is a problem, I need to know so I can address it.”

Don’t strike back. Emails are like theme parks for passive-aggressive people. If an obviously unreasonable email request for volunteers is copied to department heads and meant to bait you, reply with a cool, unruffled, “Thank you for your confidence in the volunteer department. It is our goal to provide the very best volunteers for each request and to treat our clients with the respect and professional service they deserve. I will keep you posted on our progress.” The passive aggressive staff member is goading you into complaining that the request is unreasonable, so get out of line for that ride.

Prove it. When a staff member complains, “it always takes forever to get a volunteer,” reply with, “Please give me examples of requests that were not met on time. Without specifics, I really cannot make improvements and it is my job to continually improve volunteer services. So, what are those examples?” Broad statements without factual backup are g-force coasters to passive aggressive staff. Make them give you examples you can work with. Arm yourself with your Excalibur Sword-like phrase and wield it with might such as, “Our volunteer program is committed to our mission, therefore….”

Deflect unwarranted blame in a professional way. Called out in a meeting because a staff member did not get something done and they want to blame lack of volunteers? Ugh, the roller coaster that plunges into a dark tunnel. Pick the right moment to stand up and say, “With a day’s notice, we provided 3 outstanding volunteers. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that volunteer services takes pride in supplying the right volunteers for all requests. The sooner we get a request, the more time we have to engage our volunteers.  Last minute requests will be treated with high importance, but often we have more than one last minute request.” Don’t get into finger-pointing but take the opportunity to educate staff on how to request volunteers.

Counter with the positive. Negativity is the passive-aggressive track of choice so counter with positive stats, stories and mission supporting evidence. Flip the narrative; say, “did you know that last month our volunteers donated a staggering 850 hours which is more than having an extra 5 full time staff?” Or, “last week alone, our volunteers served 300 meals, impacting 80 families in our community?” Or, “because our 4 volunteers came in last minute to help with the event, our mission was able to reach 200 influential community leaders.”

While roller coasters are meant to be fun, a passive-aggressive roller coaster is meant to derail your positive work. Don’t get on one.


this post is an update from 5 ways to get off the passive aggressive roller coaster.