How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person?

Last Updated on April 7, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester

How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person? Nothing gets on my nerves like a passive-aggressive person.

At least when someone is outright aggressive, they either let their frustrations out and get over whatever feelings they were going through, or they’re so belligerent that you have reasonable cause to sever the relationship and never see them again. 

When someone gets passive-aggressive, you can’t be sure it’s even happening. Maybe they’re having an off day, or they don’t realize how offensive their actions are. The uncertainty that’s tied to passive-aggressive behavior drives me up the wall. 

Most people feel powerless to do anything about passive-aggressive behavior. If they mention it to someone else or call out the offender, they’re viewed as the one overreacting.

Sometimes your only option is to fight fire with fire; you’ve finally had enough, and now you want to know how to annoy a passive-aggressive person.

Keep reading to learn responses to passive aggression and how you can break the toxic cycle of behaviors.

What is Passive Aggressive Behavior?

What is Passive Aggressive Behavior?

First off, we’ll need to define passive aggression, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Passive-aggressive behavior is one of those “I know it when it sees it” things.

A single behavior might appear innocuous, but compile a list of these actions, and it’s clear that passive-aggressive people want you to know they’re angry with you.

Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior comes in many flavors; sometimes, it’s intended to demonstrate power, while others use it to avoid conflict. It never feels good to be on the receiving end of passive-aggressive insults like these.

Always Being Late

As they say, “timeliness is best in all matters.” Making someone wait for you can be seen as disrespectful, especially if there’s a consistent pattern of behavior.

In addition, it shows that you believe your time is more valuable than the other person’s.

Unsolicited Advice

“You’d look beautiful if you just smiled more”.

It’s advice you didn’t ask for and didn’t appreciate while also letting you know that the speaker thinks you are doing everything wrong as it is.

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Silent Treatment

There’s nothing more aggressive than saying nothing at all. The passive-aggressive person won’t say anything until you’ve apologized for a perceived slight. Narcissists are notorious for this passive-aggressive move.


Unfortunately, an unfortunately common aspect of dating involves cutting off contact without any explanation. The behavior is standard for conflict-avoidant personalities.

Insulting Compliments

This was impressive, coming from you”

These are the kinds of compliments that aren’t intended to make you feel good. Instead, the passive-aggressive speaker wants you to know how little they respect you, even if they have to admit you’ve done something positive this time.

The best passive-aggressive comments are ones that appear complimentary enough on the surface so that you don’t even notice the speaker’s negativity while you’re in their presence.

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Only later do you detect their true meaning, and being unable to respond, it eats at you indefinitely. 

Aggressive Body Language

Have you ever walked down the hall at work and had someone refuse to meet your gaze. While they might play it off as shyness or that they’re oblivious, it’s often intentional and a way of showing disrespect to the other person.

Patronizing comments

“You wouldn’t understand” or “this is a little above your level”.

This passive-aggressive style is designed to put you in your place (low-status and low-power).

Feigned Incompetence

Particularly common among spouses, where one will pretend not to know how to do something so that partner always needs to (using the washing machine, making the bed correctly, changing the baby’s diaper).

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Why Do People Behave Passive-Aggressively?

Why Do People Behave Passive-Aggressively?

Passive-aggressive behaviors are a strange dichotomy. On the one hand, they’re hostile actions that are often intended to display power, and on the other, they appear to be a tool of the meek and conflict-avoidant.

Unfortunately, these behaviors also create a cycle of conflict where someone becomes angry at someone else’s passive-aggressive behavior, which only causes that person to act out in more passive-aggressive ways.

To break the cycle, you must understand the underlying cause of those behaviors. These are some of the most common reasons for someone to act out passive-aggressively.

They Lack Power

Have you ever noticed that your boss is rarely passive-aggressive towards you? If they’ve got a problem with you, they say it to your face.

Your boss holds immense power over you, so they don’t need to be passive-aggressive. The less power your boss has, the more likely they’ll react passive-aggressively when they feel slighted.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a tool of the powerless. To fight back, those without power will act out in subtle ways that frustrate those in power, without being so overt as to incur punishment.

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Aggression Has Consequences

We live in a society that eschews violence, at least the overt kind, making passive-aggressive behavior an attractive option for expressing emotion within these confines.

This is true for women, who are told to confront or address conflict directly. However, many men are taught the same thing, and you see it in the cycles of a passive-aggressive man.

He’ll act out by being late or withdrawing from social interaction entirely instead of saying no whenever he’s asked to do something he doesn’t like. 

People Need an Outlet For Expression

Feelings don’t go away because they’re socially unacceptable. If someone is angry, they’ll look for ways to show it, even if it’s not outright aggression.

Instead of raising their voice or using harsh language, they’ll do things that make your life harder, assuming you’ll decode their anger from it.

This has the unfortunate side effect of drawing out conflict that may have only lasted a few minutes had the person been able to express their anger openly.

It’s Easier than Expressing Feelings

Putting feelings into words isn’t always easy, especially for those raised to bottle up their emotions.

Sometimes, being passive-aggressive is simply the path of least resistance. With some passive-aggressive actions, like being chronically late or ghosting, the person is just demonstrating avoidant behaviors.

They can’t bring themselves to do something they don’t want to do (be in a social situation or admit to a potential romantic partner that things aren’t working out).

Plausible Deniability

When confronted, a passive-aggressive person can always say that you’re misinterpreting their actions, that they didn’t mean any harm.

If you react too vigorously, you’re the one that’s in the wrong, making them the victim. The passive-aggressive person gets to walk away without taking any responsibility for their actions.

It’s a form of gaslighting, whereby you no longer trust your perceptions and are forced to take the passive-aggressive person’s word that they meant no harm.

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7 Ways How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person

Dealing with a passive-aggressive individual can be quite an ordeal; how do you respond to someone that never does anything so unmistakably rude or cruel that you do something about it but manages to destroy you through “death by a thousand cuts”? 

One option is to write them off and be done with the whole situation. What if that’s not impossible? How do you outsmart a passive-aggressive person?

Turn the situation around and use some of their own tactics on them. It’s practical, but perhaps at the cost of needing to deal with this person even further.

These are some of the best ways to make it through the day with a passive-aggressive person.

7 Ways How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person

#1 Don’t Give Into Them

If this is a long-term relationship – coworker, family member, a friend of a friend, you need to lay some ground rules.

First, you don’t want this person to learn that passive-aggressive behaviors are effective on you. Sure, it’s easier to ignore their behavior, but this only makes it more likely to continue doing it in the future.

Passive-aggressive people know this, and they know they have the power to get what they want simply by being annoying.

#2 Ignore Them

Short-term relationships are different; maybe you have a one-off client or a staff member at a store that’s taken a passive-aggressive tone toward you.

This isn’t a hill worth dying on – passive aggression thrives on attention, and if no one responds, the behavior stops relatively quickly.

If someone makes a passive-aggressive comeback, pretend you never heard it. If they repeat it, their aggressive behavior becomes more overt and makes them look bad. 

#3 Walk Away

It’s the best of both worlds – you take an assertive stance with the passive-aggressive individual while not sticking around to find out if that assertiveness has any consequences.

For example, maybe you have a mother-in-law who makes snide comments about your weight or how you dress; tell her you have a necessary appointment you need to be getting to.

To some extent, this is itself a passive-aggressive behavior because she’ll suspect you’re lying but would have a hard time confronting you about it.

Is passive-aggressive behavior the right way to meet passive-aggressive behavior? Not really, but it’ll get you out of the situation and give you time to come up with a better way of dealing with this person’s passive-aggressiveness in the future.

#4 Be Confrontational

passive-aggressive behavior is all about avoiding confrontation, and in most situations, it does just that.

If someone is late all the time, tell them you’ve noticed and that it’s harming your relationship. Don’t get angry, though, this puts them on the defensive.

If you come back at them with aggressiveness, they might back down because they don’t want the conflict to escalate. You’ll end up looking like a jerk, though, so from a social standpoint, the passive-aggressive person will win this battle. 

#5 Expose Their Psychology

This one’s a bit risky as it requires you to get inside the passive-aggressive person’s head. However, that’s also what makes it so effective.

You’ve given them the attention they crave and call them out to express their feelings poorly. For instance, if someone is chronically late, ask them if there’s a time that would have worked better for them.

Let them know you would be willing to meet them halfway if necessary. If a passive-aggressive date ghosts you, text them and say that you’re fine ending the relationship, but they don’t need to be afraid to come out and say it.

Exposing their motives makes them feel cowardly and takes away the power of passive-aggressiveness.

#6 Tell Them They’re Being Passive Aggressive

It seems so simple: what do you say to someone who is passive-aggressive? Say they’re being passive-aggressive.

Naming the problem is sometimes all it takes to stop the behavior. If the person is simply being conflict avoidant, letting them know they’re being passive-aggressive could start a dialogue that’ll lead to more productive behaviors.

If the person is being passive-aggressive to hold power over you, you’ve immediately knocked them down a few notches. Calling someone passive-aggressive takes away their power.

#7 Be Passive-Aggressive

No, it’s not the most mature behavior, and it’ll likely lead to a vicious cycle of passive-aggressiveness, but it is an option.

Perhaps the person will recognize their own bad behavior in yours and will stop out of embarrassment.

Most likely, though, you’ll both continue the cycle of aggression, and others will probably try to steer clear of the both of you. In this situation, two wrongs definitely don’t make a right.

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Final Thoughts

Passive-aggressive behavior can be incredibly hurtful, even when it comes from a place of submissive conflict-avoidance.

Its covertness makes it harder to detect and even harder to confront. When called out for their negative behaviors, passive-aggressive people go into denial, making it look like you’re the one overreacting.

Denial is a defense mechanism, but so is the passive aggressiveness itself. People who lack power or the emotional tools for healthily expressing their feelings often resort to passive-aggressive behavior. 

While it might feel satisfying in the moment to retaliate against these behaviors, by acting passive-aggressively or confronting the person, rooting out the passive-aggressive person’s underlying issue is a far more constructive tact. 

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

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