If someone uses these 12 phrases, they’re being passive-aggressive

Avatar by Brendan Brown | January 9, 2024, 9:12 am

Ever found yourself in a conversation where something just felt off? You couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but the person you were chatting with seemed a bit… hostile?

Yet, they didn’t outright say anything wrong. It’s like they were attacking you, but with a smile.

That’s called being “passive-aggressive”.

Passive-aggressive behavior is when someone’s mad, but they don’t show it directly. It’s a sneaky way of saying mean things without being obviously mean.

We’ve put together a list of 12 common phrases people use when they’re being passive-aggressive. Once you learn these, you’ll be a pro at spotting this behavior from far away and you’ll know how to handle it.

Let’s dive in!

1. “Fine”

Ever heard someone say “Fine.” and nothing else? That’s our first phrase.

When someone says “Fine” all by itself, they probably aren’t feeling so fine. This tiny word can be a big hint they’re mad or annoyed but don’t want to say it directly.

So, what to do?

Don’t just let it slide. Kindly ask them what’s up. You can say something like, “You don’t seem okay. Want to talk about it?” This gives them a chance to tell you what’s really going on.

Remember, if someone uses “Fine” all alone, it might be a clue they’re upset. Be a good friend and ask what’s going on.

2. “Whatever you want”

Sounds pretty easy-going, right? Not always.

When someone says this, they might actually be upset, but they’re not saying it directly. It’s a way for them to hint that they’re not happy, but without telling you what the problem is.

What should you do?

First, don’t just go with it. Ask them what they really think or how they really feel. You could say, “I value your opinion. What would you like to do?” This shows them that their thoughts matter and invites them to share openly.

Always remember, “Whatever you want” isn’t always as breezy as it sounds. Make sure you check in to see what they really think.

3. “No worries if not”

Next up is the phrase “No worries if not.” It seems pretty relaxed and casual, but sometimes, it’s not that simple.

When people add this to a request, they might actually be worried about hearing a “no.” They’re trying to make their request sound less important than it really is, just in case they don’t get the answer they’re hoping for.

So, what do you do?

Try to be open and honest. You could reply, “Are you sure it’s alright if I can’t? It’s okay to tell me if this is important to you.” This encourages them to say what they really need, without worrying about being a burden.

Keep in mind, “No worries if not” might really mean “I hope you can, but I’m trying not to seem pushy.”

4. “I’m not mad”

This one’s tricky. When someone says “I’m not mad”, they might actually be pretty mad or upset. But instead of talking about what’s bothering them, they keep it inside and pretend everything’s cool.

So, what’s your move?

Don’t just take it at face value. Ask them what’s really going on. You might say, “You seem upset, do you want to talk about it?” This gives them a chance to share what’s actually on their mind.

Remember, “I’m not mad” can sometimes mean “I’m mad but don’t want to talk about it.” Always check to make sure everything’s okay.

5. “I thought you knew”

Now, here’s a counter-intuitive one for you – “I thought you knew.”

This phrase seems innocent enough, right? Like they genuinely thought you were in the loop. But often, this can be a passive-aggressive way of saying, “You should have known,” or “You missed something obvious.”

So, what’s the game plan?

Don’t let it trip you up. Acknowledge the misunderstanding and use it as an opportunity for better communication. You can say, “Sorry for the confusion. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page next time.”

Remember, “I thought you knew” might not always be as straightforward as it seems. It could be a veiled criticism or an attempt to put you on the back foot.

6. “It’s up to you”

When someone says this, it might sound like they’re giving you a choice, but sometimes it’s a way to avoid sharing their real thoughts or feelings.

Trying asking them directly for their opinion. Say something like, “I want to know what you think. What’s your choice?” This invites them to share honestly.

So, remember, “It’s up to you” might mean they’re holding back. Don’t be afraid to ask for their real opinion.

7. “Thanks a lot”

Normally, this would just be a friendly thank you, right?

But when it’s said with a certain tone or in a specific context, it can actually be pretty sarcastic. It’s like they’re saying, “You didn’t help at all,” or “You messed up,” but in a ‘polite’ way.

If someone says this to you, try not to react defensively. Instead, ask for clarification.

You could say, “It sounds like you’re upset. Can you help me understand what went wrong?” This opens the door for a more open and constructive conversation.

8. “I was just joking”

This phrase can be a way to disguise a hurtful comment. The person might say something mean, and then when it’s not received well, they’ll claim it was all a joke.

If someone says “I was just joking” to you, politely let them know that their ‘joke’ was not taken lightly.

You might say, “That comment felt hurtful. I know you said it was a joke, but it didn’t feel like one to me.”

9. “It’s not a big deal”

Sometimes you might hear someone say, “It’s not a big deal.” Seems innocent, right? Like they’re just brushing off something minor.

But often, this phrase is a mask for deeper feelings. They might be upset or annoyed about something, but don’t want to seem dramatic or create conflict.

How can you approach this?

Respect their feelings and show you care. You could say something like, “Even small things can matter. If it’s important to you, I want to understand it.” This creates a safe space for them to express their feelings without fear of being judged or dismissed.

Remember,”It’s not a big deal” might be a sign that something actually is a big deal to them. Make sure to take them seriously and encourage open conversation.

10. “Do what you want”

While it might seem like they’re giving you freedom to choose, it can sometimes mean they’re upset with the choices you’re making.

If someone says this to you, encourage them to share their feelings.

Ask, “It seems like you’re not happy with my choice. Do you want to talk about it?”

11. “Nothing”

This is often the go-to response when someone doesn’t want to disclose what’s actually bothering them. They might be feeling upset, hurt, or annoyed, but choose to say “Nothing” rather than share those feelings.

So, what can you do?

A gentle, caring approach works best.

Try saying, “I can see you’re not feeling great. When you’re ready, I’m here to listen.” This shows your willingness to understand and support them without forcing them to speak before they’re ready.

Your job is to create a comfortable environment where they feel safe to open up about their feelings when they’re ready.

12. “Interesting choice”

Lastly, there’s “Interesting choice.” This might sound innocent, but can be a subtle way of criticizing your decisions without being direct.

How to react?

Ask for their honest opinion. You could say, “It sounds like you have some thoughts about this. Can you share them with me?”

Final word

To wrap it all up, these 12 phrases might sound pretty harmless at first, but they can often be signals of passive-aggressive behavior.

So, stay alert, trust your gut, and remember to approach these situations with empathy and open communication.

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