13 Ways to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person

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I’m sure we’ve all been there – had a colleague, loved ones, or stranger brush past you semi-aggressively, roll their eyes at you or behind your back, or paid you backhanded compliments

You may wonder if there are ways of how to annoy a passive-aggressive person, just so you can get back at them. 

Their sarcasm, aggressive habits, and constant argumentative behavior can be draining, and if you can find a way to point out their behavior, while standing your ground, it’s a win-win. 

Here are some of the best ways to annoy that irritating, passive-aggressive person in your life.

What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? 

When a person behaves passive-aggressively, they are experiencing negative feelings like anger and hurt and convey how they feel in indirect or covert ways instead of being honest about how they feel and engaging in healthy and constructive behaviors. 

We all have the capacity to behave passive-aggressively, and sometimes, this behavior isn’t intentional. Often, the passive-aggressive person isn’t even aware of how they act.

They may know that they are feeling angry, frustrated, hurt, or resentful, and without healthy coping mechanisms, boundaries, and emotional regulation strategies in place, their behavior takes a turn for the worse.      

Their passive-aggressive actions may be verbal, physical, or a combination of both.

Examples of verbal passive-aggressive behavior include: 

  • Giving someone the silent treatment 
  • Playing the victim and refusing to take responsibility 
  • Being sarcastic
  • Sulking 
  • Telling jokes that aren’t funny 
  • Making patronizing statements or comments
  • Giving backhanded comments  
  • Unsolicited advice and opinions 
  • Gossiping 
  • Making excuses  

Physical passive-aggressive behavior may take the form of: 

  • Procrastinating  
  • Excluding themselves socially at a company party in an act of defiance  
  • Withholding affection from their loved ones  
  • Rolling their eyes, exaggerated sighs, and other negative body language   
  • Slamming the door 
  • Frequent lateness 
  • Weaponized kindness 
  • Weaponized incompetence 
  • Ghosting 
  • Subtly sabotaging others 

Causes of passive-aggressive behavior include: 

  • Not understanding how you feel and being unable to regulate emotions in a healthy way.
  • Being disconnected from your feelings and the passive-aggressive behavior is an unconscious act because of the “unknown” feelings.  
  • Being scared of conflict so passive-aggressive behavior is a way to avoid dealing with your needs, challenges, and desires in an open and direct way. 
  • Lacking the necessary communication skills to talk about feelings and emotions in a healthy way, so it’s a case of “I’m angry at you but I won’t talk about it because I don’t know how to and I’m not going to learn.” 
  • Feeling hurt and needing to lash out at someone, whether they hurt you or not. 
  • Childhood trauma and learning that passive-aggressiveness is the norm from your grownups and mentors. 

Aggressiveness vs Passive-Aggressiveness  

Aggressive behavior is characterized by overt or direct acts of aggression, while passive-aggressiveness is a kind of aggressive behavior that’s expressed indirectly in words and/or actions. 

If you aren’t aware, passive-aggressive behavior may appear to be passive, but it’s exactly because it isn’t so noticeable (unless you know what to look for) that it’s so sneaky and can be more hurtful

Someone who acts aggressively will have no qualms about stabbing you in the front, while their passive-aggressive counterpart will rather stab you in the back where you won’t see it coming, and that’s why it hurts even more – because you didn’t know they were hurt, angry, or felt rejected and didn’t give you the chance to own up or help them.    

Someone who is overtly aggressive will engage in easily identifiable negative and even violent behavior, such as raising their voice or moving into your personal space, even trying to push or hit you.

However, if they are covertly or passively aggressive, they act negatively that’s harder to pinpoint. 

You may feel threatened, but not be able to put a finger on what that person did to threaten you.

However, you will become aware of actions such as “accidentally” brushing past you in a forceful way, loudly setting things down, or ignoring your attempts to speak to them. 

13 Strategies: How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person 

It’s not easy to deal with passive-aggressive behavior, whether you recognize it for what it is or have a suspicion that there’s something off with how the passive-aggressive person acts. 

One way of dealing with passive-aggressiveness is to get under the person’s skin, but note that annoyance isn’t always the best course of action.

You may need to have a direct and honest conversation with them, especially if they are a loved one or an employee, or simply ignore them.    

If annoying the passive-aggressive person is the best way to handle them, try these strategies:  

1. Play Tit-for-Tat 

Playing tit-for-tat with the passive-aggressive person sounds so juvenile or kindergarten-ish but sometimes you’ve got to resort to childish behavior to deal with the toxicity. And you can’t always address their passive-aggressiveness head on. 

When you engage in tit-for-tat, you behave passive-aggressively when the other person does so, in effect, mimicking what they do in the hopes that they will recognize their bad behavior for what it is. 

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When you put them on the spot, they may squirm, realizing they’ve been caught, but that’s only the case if the passive-aggressive behavior was intentional.

So if the person rolls their eyes, sighs excessively during meetings, or gives you a backhanded compliment, you do the same. If you are successful, the person will see how they’ve been behaving and, hopefully, they’ll make amends, deal with their feelings, and address how they’ve been acting.

Of course, you can’t keep going with titting-for-tatting and let the behavior spiral out of control. So beware to not take this too far and give them the impression that their passive-aggressiveness has worked. 

2. Confront Them 

At a glance, confronting the person may not seem like it’ll annoy them, but it will because they may realize that they can’t continue their passive-aggressiveness and get away with it. 

Get under their skin by commenting “Wasn’t that a bit too passive-aggressive?” or “Why don’t you just come out and say it? Admit how you really feel and act accordingly.” You may also want to be more tactful when confronting the passive-aggressive person. 

Ultimately, how you confront them depends on who they are to you. You may need to be more tactful if it's a colleague or boss, while if it’s your romantic partner or child, you can be more direct.  

When you put them on the spot, they may squirm, realizing they’ve been caught, but that’s only the case if the passive-aggressive behavior was intentional. If they are unaware of how they’ve been acting, they may not realize they’ve done anything wrong

Essentially, the more you confront the toxic behavior, the less damaging it will be – both in terms of its power over you and the satisfaction they get from engaging in passive-aggressiveness.

3. Dig Deep – Empathize with Them

Passive aggression hurts, so you probably don’t want to try and stand in their shoes (especially if that person has been walking all over you).

However, finding it in yourself to see things from the other person’s perspective can help them feel less alone, not judged, and encouraged to take positive action. 

While your passive-aggressive colleague may shout at you, and every bone in your body wants to shout back, you can try to understand what has upset them and caused them to raise their voice. 

Consider responding with something empathic like “It’s going to be okay. I can understand that you are upset and feel the need to speak louder to be heard. However, I can assure you, I am listening and I hear you.”

You can paraphrase what they have said, which shows them you are listening and have heard their concerns. Keep your own feelings and excitability under control to stop the situation escalating. 

4. “Can You Say That Again, Please?”

Passive-aggressive people have a strongly narcissistic streak, and they often say things without thinking, and then usually deny having said it at all.

It’s a good idea to make them say things twice, which lets them know you are paying attention, and you have caught them on a questionable statement. 

By getting them to repeat, you are also making them more aware of what they said, which triggers a pause instinct. Use this opportunity to remain calm and simply ask them to repeat. Ask for clarification, making them clearly state what they said or meant. 

Using repetition, you can annoy a passive-aggressive person into taking ownership of their words and meanings. This will make them more likely to step up and become more responsible

5. Call Them Out When They Are Wrong 

Annoy the passive-aggressive person by calling them out on their behavior when they are clearly wrong or have made a mistake.

You don’t have to be mean about it. It’s best to remain calm and take emotion out of anything you say. Address their wrong claims or false information with a polite, matter-of-fact tone

You should also keep your wits about you and remain in control of the situation as the person may try to provoke you when they feel annoyed. Focus on what they are doing and saying and not the intentions behind the passive-aggressive behavior.  

For example, when they’ve misquoted someone, correct them. Show them factual information, which will make them feel foolish. This prevents them from further manipulating the situation. 

6. “I Didn’t Quite Follow Your Meaning.”

Those who engage in passive-aggressive behavior hate having to explain themselves – remember, they think the problem isn’t with them, it’s with the world (that’s out to get them).

When you notice the person said something that’s passively aggressive, you can make them circle back by asking them to explain.

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Be as unfazed about the passive-aggressiveness as you can be so they’ll realize their behavior doesn’t have the desired effect.  

My friend calls this “pulling a Carla,” (based on someone she knew who did this all the time) where you pretend to not have understood, which forces them to explain, inadvertently reminding them of how foolish their negativity and churlish behavior has been. 

Questioning what they have said is also how you let them know that you know about the game they are playing, and gently tell them you won’t stand for it.

Instead of getting away with their rude behavior, they have to smooth things out by choosing their words and actions more carefully.  

7. Avoid an Argument by Agreement

When you’re geared up for an argument, you will feel quite deflated when the person you wanted to argue with has instead agreed with you all the way.

So, instead of calling them out on their statements or rude and aggressive behavior, you can do a mind-screw and agree with them. 

Consider telling them “Oh, you are absolutely right. John was incredibly selfish in asking you to work overtime, even though it was your turn.” 

Defang insults by pretending not to know that they just insulted you. Try saying something like, “Oh, you are right, I have a lot of free time, and I cherish those hours so much.” 

Remember, they are trying to get a rise out of you – don’t give it to them. 

If they try to boss you around, comply with their request, but do so in a loud way, as if it’s the best thing you’ve done all day. You can turn their instruction to make dinner into a feast, complete with Italian singing and candlelight.  

8. Conveniently Forget and Make Excuses 

The passive-aggressive person may try to get a rise out of you with their behavior, and not engaging with them is sure to annoy them. If they subtly make demands, requests, and comments, ignore them. Don’t respond where possible. 

If you do need to say something, you can go with “Oh, I didn’t realize you were talking to me.” Change the subject or walk away if you can. Or simply let what they’ve said hang in the air by not acknowledging it. 

You can also “forget” to do something if the person made a request. If they ask about it, apologize and say that it’s slipped your mind or you’ve been busy. You can add that you’ll get to it soon or later – except you never do. 

Not acknowledging them or failing to jump will really annoy them, and they can’t really blame you because you’ve been nice and apologetic.

9. Ignore Their Behavior by Not Reacting   

Who likes to be ignored? No one. 

Ignoring and pretending not to see the passive-aggressiveness is a great way to get under their skin. Be oblivious to their being late, their exaggerated sighs, eye rolls, and subtle digs. 

If your romantic partner says, “This meal was good, but I’d never put so much effort into making it,” respond with a “Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Don’t react to the insulting part. 

Or if they comment about how your side of the room is always messy, smile at them and nonchalantly reply, “Oh, I haven’t noticed.” 

Or if you get the silent treatment from your colleague, don’t pester them and ask “What’s wrong?” Pretend it’s a normal day and that you aren’t even noticing that they aren’t being their usual self.  

Don’t give them the satisfaction of getting under your skin. Be as unfazed about the passive-aggressiveness as you can be so they’ll realize their behavior doesn’t have the desired effect.  

10. Use Delay Tactics 

When a passive-aggressive friend or colleague tries to get a rise out of you, don’t respond immediately. Instead, delay how you respond and distract them (if possible).  

If there’s a phone call, text, or email from them, don’t feel like you have to reply the moment you get the notification on your phone or computer. Carry on with what you are busy with and circle back to the call, text, or mail in an hour or four hours.

If they ask you in person about something or request you to do something, say that you have to think about it.  

You’ll send a clear message that they aren’t a priority and that you have better, more important things to do. They may also get the message that their passive-aggressiveness isn’t working the way they wanted to. 

When using delay tactics, continue to be polite but stay the course. They’ll get really frustrated and realize that they aren’t winning because you’re not playing their game.

11. Storm Them with an Information Overload

A good way to also annoy a passive-aggressive person is to overload them with so much information that they get overwhelmed. This will achieve the effect that they will rather avoid contact with you

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The decision to annoy a passive-aggressive person is ultimately up to what you’d like to achieve and the position of power that person occupies in your life.

If they are snarky and ask where you’d been, you can tell them all about your trip to the vet with your dog that started vomiting in your car, your girlfriend who had a weird rash and called so you just had to go with her to the doctor, and how your car is out of gas because you forgot to fill up. 

Focus on truly mind-numbing information they really won’t want to hear. Of course, exercise some caution if the person who’s behaving passive-aggressively is your boss. Remember to stay polite and just keep pouring information, utterly confusing them.   

12. “I’m Sorry, There’s No Soap in the Ladies”

Since a passive-aggressive person is waiting for you to react and attack or defend yourself, they are completely unprepared for apologies, especially when these seem sincere, and even more so if you are apologizing for random and totally unrelated things.

They’re geared for conflict, but instead, you disarm them with one little word – “sorry.”

You can apologize for anything from being sorry about the weather to forgetting to put the toilet seat down.

Other random things to apologize for include looking at them, breathing loudly, taking up too much space in your chair, for being there, for wearing red shoes instead of brown, and anything you know will annoy them.  

13. Make Them Feel Weak and Incapable

Being helpful is never frowned on, and you can use this to really bake their noodle.

When that super passive-aggressive person at work walks in with their lunch box, you can offer to help them carry it, or pull out their chair. You can suggest that they give you half their tasks for the morning, since you’re happy to help. 

Walk up to them and randomly take over what they were busy with, all the while smiling politely, dripping sincerity, and being absolutely goody-two-shoes

A little clever sarcasm can also help here. Assist them with a simple task like filling up the coffee jar in the office. Then tell them that if they have any questions or need help with it, you’re happy to help. 

This approach truly strips away their power and leaves them feeling foolish.  

Final Thoughts About How to Annoy a Passive-Aggressive Person

The decision to annoy a passive-aggressive person is ultimately up to what you’d like to achieve and the position of power that person occupies in your life. If they are your boss or significant other, it may not be in your best interest to annoy them. 

However, if you decide to step up to the line, ensure you remain polite, friendly, and play the innocent to the T. There’s no point in annoying them and things backfire on you. 

Consider using empathy, ignorance, and delay to start with, as these are the easiest for you to “get away with.”  If you are worried that you are passive-aggressive, try to be more assertive with these assertive behavior examples.

And if you're looking for more resources on personality types, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.

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