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Lipstick, art and communication

Passive aggression is truly an art form. The beauty of it is that when confronted, the artists just say, “I didn’t mean to do it or I don’t know what you are talking about.” Deny, Deny, Deny. Admins run businesses, run departments, they are the pulse. As we know in an office, it is imperative to befriend them and your life is easy. 

The last admin I befriended, let’s call him Dan even though Dan is a gal so we better call her Dee. I do think there are gender differences in passive aggression. In my experience, men don’t get caught up in the drama of it all and just say and do in a straight forward way. Women on the other hand, can be extremely passive aggressive to particularly other women. Is it misogynist that I am saying this about my own gender? Well, I will save you my commentary on the theory of socialization of gender roles. But suffice it to say, girls are taught to be afraid of confrontation and not communicate directly. As adults this translates into a passive aggressive conflict resolution style, inefficient communication and leadership skills.

For example, I hired an assistant awhile back. Finding the right assistant is tough. Also, the fraternity that my assistant would be working in does not support shall we say a healthy work environment. When someone new comes on, it is kind of like Pledge week and the other workers push the limits. (You can see why sometimes, I just want to play in my own sandboxJ)

Anyway, I trained my assistant, let’s call her Sheila. I alerted the office admin Dee that if she had any concerns or issues about Sheila to let me know immediately. Well, fast forward to me realizing within 2 weeks that Sheila and I were not meant to work together. Then I get a call from the big boss and I get told that Dee suggested I was not acting in the best interest of the company and that my new assistant made mistakes. These little pecadillos, I do not have patience for. I invited Dee’s feedback 2x, once verbally and 1x via email and yet nothing.

But then when the opportunity rose to show that she cared about the company more than anyone, she took it. Thankfully, the big boss doesn’t get into all the drama of it and didn’t question me. That’s the role of trust and how it works between a boss and an employee. But you know, I was and am livid. I allowed myself to play into Dee’s poor me, save me bull shit. I advocated for her raise, her treatment, and gave her quite a bit of money as a holiday bonus, birthday etc…. But you know, it didn’t matter.

In the end, this adult woman, does not feel safe and secure. Those feelings have nothing to do with me but impacted me and yes triggered me immensely. Since this incident, I have stopped the bonuses and simply exchange pleasantries. Now, phone calls get lost, dropped, and given away—ahhhh the nature of the jungle.

The point of this story is that for Dee who works hard every day but holds a fear that will not go away—impacts her success. It impacts how she communicates, how she resolves conflicts and how she leads her own life. She is over sixty and has a lot of unresolved trauma from different periods in her life. I have noticed in Dee and in the elders in my family that unresolved trauma makes one’s life smaller with age not larger. Fear and denial have ways of taking over and impacting and influencing all facets of life—professional and personal.  My hope and wish for all of us out there is to face, confront, and heal from our fears, our traumas, so that our lives may grow in vibrancy and possibility.

Don’t live life as a shrunken turtle, live as the tortoise—slow, steady, proud, and in charge of one’s own life.

p.s. Passive Aggression is still aggression and it is not pretty even with lipstickJ

About Joy Rain

Joy has been a diversity and inclusion consultant and mediator for over ten years. Prior to consulting, she was professor of Psychology and Women Studies. Joy has a Master of Arts in Psychology (Boston University) and a Master of Education in Social Justice Education (UMASS Amherst).


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