Dealing with passive-aggressive team members

On 06.09.2019 we conducted a webinar on the above mentioned topic for all customers, partners and friends of RELEVANT as part of our continuing education program. Our speaker was Anne Schweppenhäußer, Managing Director of C!CERO Organisation Development in Stuttgart, who experienced and moderated several situations and processes with passive-aggressive executives and management teams during her long consulting career.

Anne brought the case and the anonymous Hogan profiles of two managing directors with her, in whose cooperation there were always unsettled conflicts and tensions, the effects of which were also felt beyond the senior management team in the organization. First of all, we worked out the red threads of the two managers and compared them with the most striking characteristics depicted here:

This constellation of the two managing directors holds potential for tension and conflict in everyday life. Even though both managers have a rather low level of interpersonal sensitivity and communication is rather fact-oriented and clear, Manager 2 has a much stronger need for social contact and interaction.

In stress, pressure and trigger situations both show very similar tendencies. They do not bear the frustration over each other. Probably everyone thinks, when he is offended or frustrated “I like to help, why don’t we manage to get together here”. The two of them get out of each other’s way and suffer silently. Others have already said, “You muck about until one of you howls”.

Anne Schweppenhäußer had detailed feedback and coaching discussions with each of the two managing directors and discussed conflicts on the basis of their Hogan profiles, which led to an increased understanding of the own conflict patterns and the conflict dynamics with one another as well as a clear awareness of their exuberant flight tendencies. If they are frustrated, or things get personal, both swallow their anger and withdraw.

To prevent frustration and anger from piling up further, they then worked on the intriguing question of what it takes to remain in contact with each other under stress. In the confidential individual conversations, Anne pointed out possible scenarios in which one’s own behavior could lead to dysfunctional reactions in the other.

She paid particular attention to passive resistance. This HDS scale “leisurely” of the Hogan Personality Diagnostic describes the tendency under stress to appear cooperative externally but internally irritable, stubborn and uncooperative. With both managers she determined what typical trigger situations are and what drives each individual into passive resistance. The behavioral patterns of the two managers reverberates through all levels in the organization.

To (team-)coaches Anne Schweppenhäußer recommends the following interventions when dealing with passive-aggressive participants:

  • Accompaniment over a longer period of time = several shorter follow-up appointments
  • Give room for accumulated anger and resentment; appreciative and free of sanctions (= support clarification, if necessary four- or six-eyes conversations)
  • Make concrete team agreements on how to deal with “withheld messages” – with active memories
  • If needed: Provocative style according to Frank Farrelly
  • If necessary: Paradoxical interventions (= symptom prescription)


We at RELEVANT Managementberatung support coaches, trainers, executives and teams with great pleasure in their continuous development. We offer various individualized RELEVANT team reports on a Hogan basis. We are only an email ( or phone call (0211-1709 5006) away.