· 7 min read

Unhealthy Communication Styles - Passive, Passive-Aggressive and Aggressive

Unhealthy communication styles and their negative effects along with example to help identify them.

Unhealthy communication styles and their negative effects along with example to help identify them.
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

In the last post I talked about the important of communication and where our communication styles come from. Before learning healthy communication, we need to understand unhealthy ones.


Here are some characteristics of unhealthy communication:

  • One-Sided: It’s one-sided, i.e., prioritizes only one side instead of both.
  • Dishonest: Often untruthful or incomplete on purpose.
  • Manipulative: Attempt is often to try to control other people’s emotions or your own to get things done your way.

And this usually happens in an environment where it feels unsafe to speak.

Here are some unhealthy communication styles

Passive / Avoidant

Here, a person doesn’t say what they think or continue with something they don’t like just to avoid conflict.

Example 1: Working Extra Hours

In a meeting an office meeting, the boss asks developers to increase daily working hours to 10 hours per day and work on weekends too. Even though most developers feel this is unjust. No developer raises an argument against the boss because they don’t want to be at the #lineOfFire.

This is an example of passive. Avoiding something and just doing as we are told.

Example 2: Letting someone make a mistake

Most of us are selfish, if not in one area, then in another. Suppose a friend is in need of something; they are in deep emotional pain. You may be able to suggest a potential path forward, but instead of trying or finding the right time to express this, you let it be. This is because you feel your friend would be angry with you if you express this. If they cry, you will console them, but you won’t tell them what to do. #passiveBystander

Here, we are being passive because we didn’t think of helping the person well; we thought of protecting our emotions more.

Being passive comes from the assumption that not doing anything will be emotionally better for us or others or both. Being passive doesn’t solve problems. Being passive creates more problems around us and in society.

These problems come and bite us.

  • When we don’t say we disagree with the #bosses 70 hours a week plan, we actually have to work those hours. We wake and sleep thinking about work. We avoid family and friends and #ourselves. We burn out and then we find new strategies to avoid work and, be unproductive and eventually #leave the company.
  • When we are passive to others, others are passive to us. When we didn’t give them advice because we were thinking more about our feelings than helping them, you may think it #didTheTrick and that #theyNeverUnderstood. Well, it’s much more likely they picked up on it, and now they find you less trustworthy. And like you, they are more likely to not say. When you are struggling with a problem, your friend/s are likely to respond similarly, listening to you but never really speaking their mind.

If you are passive in some area, think of what’s making you passive. Are you afraid of what other people think? Are you afraid of emotions you’d feel?


Here, the person wants to avoid conflict but #can’tResist. So they mix up the two, often taunting or doing something different from what has been agreed upon, often on purpose but many times subconsciously. Most times, it’s for emotional manipulation;

This can start in two ways:

  • Starting from passive: A person who was passive has reached a mental limit where they can’t resist their fake nice.
  • Starting from aggressive: This is rarer. When a person who has been aggressive is trying to be fake nice.
Example 1.1: Taunting

English: The way you are, maybe someone can like someone like you.

Hindi: Tum jaise ho. Shayad tumhe koi mil jaye.

Emotionally manipulating someone’s sense of self-worth.

Example 1.2: Taunting

Boss: You may have a lot of money. You must be very rich. But we can’t afford X.

(X being a very small thing)

Example 2: Not doing what has been agreed upon
  • This happens with development teams a lot.
  • Often, developers say they understand something and will implement it in a certain way. Then, they’ll go ahead and do something entirely different. Push to production. It’s only after a few months that the boss realizes that people did half the work or did the complete opposite of what was decided.
Example 3: Back talking

A colleague of yours who disagrees with you doesn’t tell you that he disagrees and doesn’t discuss it. Instead, what they do is, in group meetings with everyone around, they “try” to make an example of your work [add article on how to deal with such passive-aggressive people here]. Stating how processes were not followed.

Suppose you have worked on an important critical feature that needs to be corrected, like the payment gateway. And suppose it took 2-3 weeks more than estimated. Now, during a meeting, your passive-aggressive colleague may say, “I am not trying to target anyone, but like payment gateway and some other things that were yours got delayed, … so we should do x“. Their way of supporting their point or not supporting your point is to denigrate you.

Example 4: Creating obstacles

I think this is nice. But I think we should do this later because it’s not a priority right now.

Suppose someone has a dream, but you don’t want them to achieve it, or at least it’s subconscious. You present counterfacts to what they won’t do.

For example, your partner wants to live in a foreign country. It’s their dream. But you don’t want to do it. What you do is find all the evidence of why living in a foreign country is bad. You try to manipulate them emotionally into trying to make them stay.

This is passive-aggressive.

Passive-aggressiveness is essentially a “game” to manipulate people to get what you want. A good rule of thumb, in general, is to avoid all games. #IDon’tPlayGames


This is one of the easier to recognize. It’s anger. It’s EGO 101.

This is essentially people throwing tantrums. There is a difference between being angry & acting out and between expressing that you are angry.

Example 1: I don’t care what you want

I don’t care what you want or what happened to you. I have taken this decision, and I will stick to it.

Note that it’s good to develop healthy boundaries. But an all-or-nothing boundary is unhealthy.

Example 2: Because I said so

During a discussion, the boss wants things to be exactly the way he likes. Team members try to have a healthy discussion around it.

Team Member:

I believe we should …

Boss interrupts in between:

I don’t want to hear that. Just do what I say. You beep beep beep.

Example 3: Berating

A senior “leader” says:

You guys are toddlers. I’ll throw you out.

There are infinite examples of aggression.

Concluding with the effects of Unhealthy Communication

People try being passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive with the hope to #manipulate reality. To get someone to do something.

The problem is it’s fake. You can’t “manipulate” reality and expect it not to snap back. #karmaBitch [Add a link to #karma article]


The person who is communicating in an unhealthy way starts feeling resentment. At the moment, unhealthy communication may get you what you “emotionally” want, but over the long term, it only increases resentment.

Losing Respect

And to the other people involved in the conversation, the experience is one of resentfulness and of losing respect.

Unhealthy communication is very primitive. It’s not an evolved communication.

We should move beyond passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and even beyond emotions like resentment and losing respect as the latter also contribute towards unhealthy communication.

In the next post, we see healthy communication, the one that will #elevate our communication and our relationships with others. [todo add link]. I’ll also be sharing a post on how we can move from unhealthy to unhealthy communication later.

In the words of Jordan Peterson,

Do not allow yourself to become angry, resentful or deceitful.

Question for Pondering: Do you find yourself communicating in an unhealthy manner?

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