I present to you, the passive-aggressive stakeholder. Sneaky in their approach, publicly supportive and privately destructive. As one of my colleagues recently put it… “passive-aggressives instantly breathe life into an initiative with their strident support and then kill it slowly with a thousand cuts of veto.”
The anthropological evidence of organizationally passive-aggressive behavior in specific colleagues presents itself in the behaviors that they exhibit when although friendly to your face and will demonstrate agreement when you make a suggestion, at times they even raise their voice in agreement. But when the meeting is adjourned they will inevitably send out an e-mail shooting down the idea with a strategically developed “CC” distribution list attached. If you have a call to action that is distributed electronically they will likely just pocket-veto the project by withholding their response until it is too late for preemptive course correction, forcing you to start over.
Does that sound familiar? Passive-aggressive stakeholders are disruptive to the healthy course of challenging the status quo and assembling our best process improvements with any hope of exploiting the benefit of speed-to-market.
Here is how to deal with the passive-aggressive stakeholder.
Recognize the passive-aggressive stakeholder for who they are. You may have considered them a supporter at first, then you begin to witness their stealth and guile as they start to dismantle your campaign or initiative from the inside-out.
Constrict membership to your tribe. You don’t have a tribe of stakeholders with a shared interest without some level of restriction. Global inclusiveness will simply invite the purveyors of passive-aggressive tactics to join early, and reap their insidious brand of havoc from the foundation of your initiative. Once the tribe is formed take an extra step to further constrict the group around those who are most likely to challenge the status quo and least likely to settle for anything short of an excellent result.
Mitigate your risks. You still might not catch the potential practitioner of passive-aggression early enough and they knit themselves into the fabric of a team of stakeholders. This disruption is a significant risk to the success of a new program or initiative that you need to take basic counter measures from the beginning, even when you have tried to proactively lower your risk by managing inclusiveness. From the launch of your campaign stay focused and clear in communication. Document decisions and agreements with written follow-up to all stakeholders in a “as I remember it” or “to memorialize our agreement” memo or e-mail. You can certainly give space for a reply including any realty-check edits just to take advantage of the better memory of salient point from the collective group, but you want to keep the group on the same page from the beginning. This is not to be presented as a CYA tactic, but it will work to keep the group directionally motivation when everyone is operating from a consistent understanding.
This mitigating action will disincentive the passive-aggressive stakeholder to play the game in the first place if they know that they will be acting-out in public view. To that end they will quickly be put on notice that everything they dispute will be part of the transparent process of building strong directional, understanding of the progressive toll gates of your campaign.
During implementation of a decision. Stay on high-alert for risk of the passive-aggressive personality designing disruption as you transition to an implemented state of your initiative or improvement project.
If an implementation or post-implementation deliverable is not fully met, the same people that demonstrate passive-aggressive traits present a risk of derailing the initiative ex-post-facto. Often delivering their dissent in justifiable-sounding clarity and straightforwardness
Consistent with encountering any legitimate, content-based disapproval of missed projected improvement, positive steps that you can take to diffuse the situation and keep the focus on getting the job done would be to:
- Take immediate ownership of the failure
- Do not make excuses
- Lastly, consult a broader group as to what they believe the contributing factors to the performance gap to be, as well as what they see as important corrective actions. This will take the ‘Pied Piper’ role away from any single dissenter and allow a healthier sample size of affected stakeholders to diffuse the dissent and crowd-source the best solution. Inculcating the larger group in fact-finding will also help the organization to stay focused on the significance of the gains even if they end up being slightly behind projection or timeline.
My friends, I hope I have given you helpful tools to mitigate the risk of the passive-aggressive stakeholder so you don’t have to attend the up-hill battles they invite you to. As always, until next we meet, I appreciate all you do to fill the hands that heal!
Timothy Hagler is an experienced supply chain leader, with an ever-accelerating interest in earnestly connecting stakeholders with creative ideas to meet new economic realities for healthcare providers. Tim has enjoyed an excellent track record of achievement and advancement earned through demonstrated contribution to bottom-line results, employing strong solutions architecture, analytic and financial skills in challenging, multi-client environments. Tim and his lovely wife Kandy enjoy spending time at the beach in South Carolina. Tim’s hobbies include photography, American folk music, and writing about himself in the third person.