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10 Aug

Communication Skills: Replace passive-aggressive “hostile questions” with constructive, assertive statements

Just what is passive-aggressive behavior??!!

Many people aren’t clear as to what “passive-aggressive” really means. To put it in the simplest of terms, when you engage in passive-aggressive behavior, it’s your intention to punish someone–or to be aggressive–but just not be up-front about it.

Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior
Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior

For example, putting a difficult customer “on hold” while you go have a cup of coffee is passive-aggressive, because instead of setting boundaries with your customers, you simply make them suffer.
A common passive-aggressive maneuver that many of us engage in is when we ask “hostile questions.” Hostile questions are not really questions at all; they’re statements thinly veiled by a question, and generally begin with a starter-phrase such as, “What were you thinking…” or “How did you think…” or “Why would you…”
For example, “Why would you talk to me like that in front of my employees?” is frequently simply a passive-aggressive way to say something that could have been assertive, such as, “When you talk to me like that in front of my employees I feel angry and betrayed because it undermines my authority with them.” Or, “How did you think it makes me feel when you stand me up for dinner. AGAIN?” is a passive-aggressive way to say, “When you make plans with me, then break them, I feel hurt and let down, because I love you, and count on you doing what you say you’ll do.”

Solution:  Replace passive-aggressive behavior with assertive behavior.

The next time you are about to ask a “Hostile Question,” instead, try wrapping up your message in a “hamburger.” A hamburger is a simple verbal pattern that helps us engage in assertive communication, and it goes like this: “When you…I feel…because…” and you’ll see it used in the two examples above. Try this and watch the difference in results! Even if you can’t articulate your feelings perfectly, you’ll be trying to be assertive rather than aggressive, and nothing is more disarming or productive than assertive, straight-forward communication.


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If you’re looking for professional development training from the world’s best, Dan O’Connor is a keynote speaker and author specializing in communication skills, and Dan is the creator of “Tactical Communication Skills Training System” which has revolutionized the communication training industry.  Check out all Dan’s videos, books, audios, and other resources at https://www.danoconnortraining.com/

When you’re ready to bring your customer service to a new level and rid your office of toxicity, bring Dan right onsite to your business or government office. Go to Dan O’Connor Training and email us for a quote.

Dan O’Connor specializes in delivering strategic verbal patterns, danger phrases, power phrases, lead-in lines, closing lines, freestyle scripts, and other specific tactics that participants can immediately use to achieve instant results both at work and at home.

Thousands of individuals listen each day to Dan’s online podcasts and watch his videos, and the nations leading businesses have had Dan come onsite to help with creating healthier relationships, a more positive work environment, a superior customer service force, and an atmosphere that promotes and values all of the people ­­all of the time.

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