Passive vs. Aggressive Personality Traits

How to work with a passive vs an aggressive person at work

The passive and aggressive traits are two of the most misunderstood facets of personality. Both words tend to conjure up negative images and stereotypes. However, the truth is that the passive and aggressive personality traits are just measures of how (and how hard) people push for what they want.

What is the passive personality trait?

A passive person seeks to avoid confrontation. The passive personality trait can play out in many different ways, depending on the person’s overall personality type. Passive people may come across as easygoing, nonchalant, or shy.

What are the characteristics of a passive person?

A few signs that an employee has the passive personality trait:

  • They are non-confrontational and may come across as being laid-back or reserved.
  • They tend to express their opinions in ways that don’t involve or create personal conflict.
  • They’re happy to go with the flow if they don’t have a strong opinion on a particular topic.
  • In the extreme, they may get lost among stronger personalities, fail to speak up when they need to, or bottle their emotions.

How to work with someone who tends to be passive

You’ll find people who tend to be passive at all levels of your organization. Learning how to work with, manage, and hire passive personalities can help your team thrive.

How to train a passive employee
  • Give employees plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and make it clear that questions are encouraged. Not everyone feels comfortable interjecting to ask a question unless it’s clear that you expect them to do so
  • Go through activities that have the trainee demonstrate their proficiency with the new process or skill. This will create natural opportunities to review skills.
How to motivate someone who tends to be passive at work
  • Be proactive and ask for feedback about what could be going better. Passive people have opinions, but may need more encouragement to share them.
  • Conflict can be very stressful for passive people at work. Creating a calm, collaborative environment will help all your employees perform their best.
How to give feedback to a passive employee
  • If you want to see your passive employees speak up more often in meetings, with customers, or on projects, tell them directly. Be specific about what you’d like. For example, you might say, “I really value your contributions to this project and think the team could benefit from hearing about your experience with X. Could you make it a point to chime in on that topic during tomorrow’s project check-in?”

What is the opposite of a passive personality?

On the other hand, some people have no qualms about making their opinions known. Let’s take a look at the aggressive personality trait and how it affects a person’s working style.

What does it mean to be aggressive at work?

Aggressive people are assertive in their interactions with others. They’re comfortable speaking up, especially when they’re confident in their viewpoints.

What are the characteristics of an aggressive person?

Some characteristics you may notice with aggressive personalities:

  • They speak up when they have an idea, notice an injustice, or see an opportunity to do things better.
  • Depending on their overall personality type and the degree to which they have the aggressive personality trait, they may come across as confident, demanding, passionate, outspoken, or commandeering.
  • They’re much more likely to approach people in authority about problems.
  • In the extreme, they may steamroll others, coming across as pushy or too harsh.

How to work with someone who tends to be aggressive

Aggressive personalities don’t fear conflict, which can make them valuable advocates for new ideas within the workplace. They fight for what they believe in, and they’re vocal about it. Knowing how to work with aggressive people can help you channel their energy for the betterment of your team.

How to train an aggressive employee
  • In group settings, aggressive people sometimes commandeer the discussion. If someone you’re training is asking many questions that only apply to themselves or to a small group, it’s OK to say, “Let’s talk more about these questions after the large group time.”
  • If an aggressive employee is pushing back on a part of the training (let’s say, a procedure they think could be better), tell them you can discuss it later and ask to stay on track with the big picture training.
How to motivate someone who tends to be aggressive at work
  • When possible, give them some time and resources to work on passion projects they’ve advocated for. They’ll appreciate the “yes” and being able to test out new ideas.
  • Aggressive personalities appreciate an environment where they can speak freely, be honest about the problems they see, and champion good ideas. Even if your corporate culture calls for more restraint, give your aggressive employees an outlet in one-on-one sessions with you.
How to give feedback to an aggressive employee
  • Aggressive people appreciate directness. Be kind but direct when you need to give constructive criticism. They’d rather hear the bottom line than have you beat around the bush.
  • Some managers hesitate to give feedback if an employee with an aggressive personality is coming on too strong with peers. However, this kind of interpersonal coaching can be invaluable in helping people with aggressive personalities succeed at work.

Which is a better worker: passive vs. aggressive personalities?

First of all, remember that most people aren’t extremely passive or aggressive; most of us fall somewhere on a spectrum between these two traits. That being said, there are benefits to having both working styles on your team. A workplace full of all passive or all aggressive personalities wouldn’t get much done.

The passive and aggressive personality traits are just one facet of a person’s workplace personality. Looking at all of the personality traits will give you a much more complete picture of how a person operates at work.

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