I have always loved watching people. For many years, I was totally mystified by why people did the things they did, and how I got myself into some rather uncomfortable situations, seemingly by accident. After reading “Games People Play- a Handbook of Transactional Analysis” by Eric Berne, MD, these mysterious problems seemed a little less accidental. Transactional analysis is helpful to understand basic interaction paradigms we see in every day life, and how to avoid these “traps” set consciously or unconsciously by others. (ie. getting baited into an argument you don’t want to have.)

In fact, I’ve found over time that a mixture of empathy, intuitiveness, and simple observation can make it relatively easy to predict how others will behave. If you know someone fairly well, or get a decent bead on their operating system, it can be LOADS less frustrating to deal with them. At home, at work or in any social setting. Even online.

At home, for example, I know what frustrates my children, in part because they have characteristics of mine and my husband’s. I know my oldest will get frustrated if he feels he’s the only one working and it appears to him everyone else is goofing off, whether that’s actually true or not. In fact, it will then become a road block to him finishing his work and joining in on fun, rather than acting as a motivating force. He feels mentally and emotionally trapped, whether he wants to or not. So he needs some help to see everyone is not trying to isolate him, but he simply needs to finish his stuff so we can all move on…. This can be a hard mindset to change without guidance from the outside.

Likewise, we’ve all dealt with people who have a natural passive agressive tendancy. (Many are therapists or administrators.) They never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so they don’t say anything inflammatory. But you also feel like you are never getting the straight or complete story from them. There’s something hidden under the top layer – an exchanged glance, a sense you get that all is not hat it seems on the surface.

From Wikipedia:

Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to the expectations of others in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubbornness, procrastination, sullenness, or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible. It is a defensive posture and, more often than not, only partly conscious. For example, people who are passive-aggressive might take so long to get ready for a party they do not wish to attend, that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive.

I find passive agressive behavior frustrating. I don’t always cope well with it, and I do better when I recognize it coming my way.

For example, when we were considering changing schools for my older son, I asked the administrator if he was ready to move on, and she said yes, and no, and maybe. We finally got the green light from her to apply to other schools for him, and at the last minute, she got cold feet and did the “I’m not sure” thing. Now, “I’m not sure” may be honest, but I needed a yes or no answer. And If we were applying to schools, spending money, time and emotional energy on the process, her wishy washy stance, as someone who was going to get calls from other schools, asking her opinion, was unacceptable. She had to pick a side of the fence and stick with it, not ride the rails indefinitely. I felt that if the answer was “I’m not sure he should go” then they better as all heck have a good reason for him to stay, especially with tuition at this school creeping north of $20,000 per annum. So my response was to go over her head. A plain, ordinary, aggressive move to get an answer.

I am sure the administrator was unhappy that I went to the principal to get a straight answer, but she really left me very little room to maneuver. I could back down and accept the status quo, or try to change the situation, and the only way to do that was apply pressure from outside.

As a result of this and many other encounters I have with passive-aggressive people, I really try to be less so with others. I want to be known as a straight shooter. That I present options, all of which are fine, and are presented to give people choice, not create confusion. When I find myself slipping into passive agressive behavior with others, I try to catch myself and ask why I am feeling this way. Why am I being ambivalent? Do I not care, or do I actually care, but I don’t want to deal with it now? Am I being a scardy-cat? What am I afraid of?

I often find my passive-aggressive tendancies are tied up in fear or being conflicted about two equally powerful responsibilities. I almost didn’t attend PodCamp Boston, for example, because I was worried about missing family time near the start of school; whether it would be worth it; whether I had anything to say; whether I would feel stupid. I decided I had to stop being afraid and just go, and take a chance. It has been a life changing experience. But I never would have pulled the trigger and got off my rear, gotten serious about podcasting in general, if I let myself continue to be afraid.

My goal for myself this year has been to try, as often as possible, to face my fear head on. Sometimes the answer is going to be “Run Away!” And sometimes it has to be, “Bite the Bullet and be an adult, for god’s sake.” And in either scenario, I feel so much better for having faced the demon than having merely avoided it or put it off for another day.

Oh, wait. Why yes, now that you mention it, that elephant in the living room, with the lovely lace doily on its back, is the 14 projects I have going, and perhaps I need to finish this post and address my own avoidance issues head on, yet again. Argh.  It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to get things done and move forward.