Friday, June 10, 2011

Ambiguity and Passive Aggressive Behavior

Speaking ambiguously is a way of maintaining power and control.   Avoid people who don't speak clearly or can't clarify their remarks when they are challenged.

As I noted in an earlier posting on this subject, there are some hallmark characteristics of Passive-Aggressive behavior:

  • Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one's own insecurities.
  • Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of dependency
  • Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive–aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
  • Making chaotic situations
  • Making excuses for non-performance in work teams
  • Obstructionism
  • Procrastination
  • Sulking
  • Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.

Of course, this sounds like half of America, today, particularly the last item.   A lot of people want to blame their personal problems on Obama or the "Corporate Fat Cats" - but rarely do they look inside themselves.  The far right teabaggers blame the government for their personal financial failures, and the far left "politically correct" often blame the government for the same thing.

As you might imagine, most Pot Smokers are Passive-Aggressives, particularly with regard to Ambiguity.

What is frustrating about Ambiguous people is that they say a lot, without saying anything.   They like to make cryptic comments, thinking they are being "clever" and "smart" when in fact they are just being annoying.

Making plans with the Ambiguous person is problematic.  You try to pin them down to a specific time and date, and they skate away like a pat of butter on a cast iron skillet.  You say, "I'll pick you up at 5?" and they mumble something in the affirmative.   You think they said yes, but actually the muttered "4:30" under their breath and then blame you for being late.  Sick game.

And yes, Ambiguous people are often soft talkers - people wanting to control a conversation by talking so softly that you cannot hear them - or force everyone in the room to stop their conversations so you can hear them.

Of course, this is all a game - not necessarily a game played at a conscious level, but at a subconscious one.  If a Passive-Aggressive person doesn't want to do something, they sabotage it - making vague plans which can be wiggled out of at the last minute, showing up late, or forgetting to show up at all, or just not doing anything and then making excuses why it couldn't be done.

The best way to deal with such people is often to just not.  Walk away from Passive-Aggressives as they will make your life miserable and they will squander your productivity and also waste your emotional energy.  They have nothing to offer you in terms of a business or personal relationship.  On the business side, you will be forever reminding them of due dates, and they will be vague with instructions and responses.  They will be slow or no-payers.  As employees, they will be the least productive.  They smoke pot.

On a personal side, the passive-aggressive will make your life miserable, as you will forever feel that that somehow you messed up, when in fact, they were vague or ambiguous about plans - or just changed their plans without telling you.  You will show up at the wrong time and wrong place, and end up apologizing for "your mistake" when in fact the Passive-Aggressive was unclear, gave conflicting instructions, or simply changed their mind.

And forget trying to inform them of this - it isn't worth it.  In their minds, they clearly said to meet at TGIF Friday's at 4:30 when in fact they said Ruby Tuesday's at 6:00.  You will never convince them otherwise, unless you can download a text message they sent (they are never that exact, though, and prefer vague, verbal communications).  But moreover, why should you have to "litigate" these issues with someone who is nominally your friend?

Just walk away.   They smoke pot.  They ain't gonna change - but will be annoying forever.

A classic example of ambiguous speaking occurred with my late Mother-in-law.   She wanted us to go get some Florida stone crab claws to have to "dinner" and so her two step-sons and I went out in the car to get the claws, packing them in ice in a cooler, and taking a tour of the island they lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida.   Along the way, we stopped and had lunch and a few beers.  We got back around 4:00 PM, plenty of time before dinner, with the stone crab claws still ice cold in the cooler.

"Where have you been?" she screamed, high on a low-blood sugar moment (she was diabetic), "We were supposed to have stone crab for dinner!"   We fell into the ambiguity trap.  You see, the term "dinner" doesn't always mean the evening meal, but rather the largest one.  And in Maine (where she was from), the term "dinner" is used to describe the noontime meal we know as lunch.   She thought she was being clear, but in fact was being ambiguous.

By the way, Maine is like that - the entire State is passive-aggressive and everyone speaks ambiguously.  The classic "you can't get there from here" is a total Maine-ism.   Old-time Mainers have their own coded way of speaking that "flatlanders" (who often are from more hilly country) wouldn't understand.   You can live there your whole life, but if you were born ten minutes across the border in New Hampshire, you're "from away".   Most times, Mainers say nothing at all, other than "Aya." which can mean yes, no, or maybe.  Like I said, it is the passive-aggressive State.  Who else puts "Vacationland" on their license plates and then goes out of their way to hate tourists?

So instead of saying "Lunch" which is the normal way of speaking or being even more clear by saying, "Lunch, around 1:00, I'll have everything else prepared!" she said "dinner" which was a vague and uncertain time and meal.   But then again, the whole family is that way.   They can talk for hours and hours with each other and say nothing at all of consequence or anything that is definite or certain.   "So when is your brother coming to visit?"  "Oh, in March sometime, he wasn't clear about the date.  Or was it April?  Now I'm not sure...."
Classic ambiguous speaking.

In some instances, you have to work with such people, or they are family members.  But my advice would be the same.  Don't put a Passive-Aggressive on your team.  Exclude them from meetings - they will claim never to have gotten the invite anyway.  Trying to outsmart them by documenting and litigating these things never works - and it is far too much effort.  And if you work FOR a Passive-Aggressive, just quit - finding a new job first, of course.

And you can't pin them down, so don't try.  You try to get them to write down what they mean, and they doodle and dawdle.   You try to confirm what they said.  "By dinner, you mean Supper, right?" and they say, "Aya" which processed through the Maine-translator means, "No, of course, not.  Dinner is at noon, what are you a flatlander?"   Or if you ask for a specific time, like 1:00 PM, they say, "something like that" or another ambiguous phrase.  You can't win, just walk away.

Or just have the crab claws for "Dinner" in the evening anyway and let her make a ham sandwich.

I mentioned before an Attorney I worked for who was Passive Aggressive.  He would review my work and then make vague, cryptic remarks.  Basically, he didn't know what he was talking about and was insecure.  But he wanted to appear to be dynamic, and moreover make it appear he knew more than I did.  He was later fired for stealing.  Just goes to show you....

Passive Aggresives are not hard to spot.   You can feel them in your gut - they make you anxious and nervous and uncertain.  They create chaotic situations and make ambiguous comments or instructions, leaving you depressed and unsure of what to do.   You end up feeling guilty around them, as if you did something wrong, when in fact you did nothing.  If you feel one or more of these signs, get out of the relationship - Now!  Because once they have you wrapped up like this, your life is forfeit.

If you find yourself engaging in Passive-Aggressive behavior, ask yourself why.  It may be your brain's way of saying you don't want to do something, and that's OK.  Don't join clubs you don't want to be a member of.  Don't go to parties of people you don't like.  It is better to say "No Thanks" than to say "I'll be there" and then blow it off.  (And at every party, there is someone who does this, which can be annoying to a host).

It is far more honest and direct to say "I'd rather not do that" than to pretend to go along and then sabotage some project or even in every way possible.

And of course, it would help if you stopped smoking pot (or get back on your meds).  That is the #1 cause of Passive-Aggressive behavior in my book - and why pot smokers are so annoying to the rest of us.