Passive forms of communication include passive aggressiveness, guilt, silent scorn, and eye rolling or other non-verbal behavior. Passive communication forms such as these manifest into these passive forms when we are not in environments or family systems that support our true feelings or needs. We withhold our truth in an attempt to avoid saying something uncomfortable, confrontational or potentially upsetting. For some people, this may seem like a caring act. Upon closer examination, however, we find more dysfunction than benefit. Our true needs or feelings get suppressed and eventually come out sideways. Passive forms of communication are not only unclear and ripe with misinterpretation but they also lead to ongoing resentment and a feeling of manipulation.

The best way to break this cycle is to ourselves be more assertive. When we have needs or uncomfortable feelings we risk the confrontation knowing the alternative to be ultimately more painful and confusing.

Steps to overcome passive communication:

1. Stop doing what ‘you think’ the other person wants
2. Notice behavior in others that is unclear or unsaid
3. Check out your assumption with the other person
1. I noticed you rolled your eyes, are you upset?
2. When you say you don’t care anymore, are you trying to say you do not want to go with me?
3. When you say I am ‘acting like a baby’, are you trying to tell me you do not like my decision?

The point of this practice is to diminish the use of passive forms of communication to manipulation or control. These steps are not meant to teach or change others; they are here to change our relationship with them. We invite clear communication, support all needs being addressed and if necessary, deal with two opposing needs.

Relationship advice by, Sevin Philips, MFT

Video Transcription

Hello, this is Sevin Philips. I am here to encourage you to stop playing the game of passive communication.

Passive communication can be like passive-aggressive behavior. When someone is really angry, they’re not saying it, but they’re behaving like it. It’s guilt, when somebody isn’t happy with what you’re doing and they’re trying to make you feel bad in order to get their needs met. It’s the eye-rolling. It’s the nonverbal behavior. It is the silent scorn when someone is really upset, but they’re letting you know it by being silent.

It’s these kind of things where we feel manipulated; we feel controlled. Oftentimes, we’re actually playing the game, which is that we’re actually trying to mind read the other person, navigate our day and do what it is that we think they want us to do.

The first thing to do is to stop doing it yourself. So when you have needs and you have feelings, you need to be assertive and just deal with the confrontation. If you don’t, it’s just going to come out sideways, because when we suppress our needs, it’s going to come out anyways, but it’s going to come out in a way that isn’t pretty and is more damaging to the relationship.

So when we’re dealing with other people, the first thing we need to do is stop doing what we think they want us to do. That’s the game. You stop doing that. What you have to do is really pay attention and notice when you get a feeling that somebody is not saying something.

Let’s say, for an example, “When you say I’m acting like a baby, are you really saying that you’re unhappy with my decision?” “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been silent for the last 15 minutes. Is there something that we need to talk about?” Things like this.

Basically, whatever you feel is going on, have an assumption about it, check it out with the other person, which forces them to be assertive. This is your way of freeing yourself from being controlled by it and it’s also your way to share with the relationship, with the other person how you want to be with them. So you no longer are playing the game.

The trick with this, though, is you’re not doing this because you want to change the other person or you want to teach the other person. You have to really say away from that. This is really your way of “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to live a more assertive relationship. I don’t want to feel controlled or manipulated and then end up being resentful.” It’s your way of kind of saving yourself.

It’s a really good practice. It does take time, but it completely works. I’ve seen it work time and time again.

So change yourself. Don’t do it. Check out your assumptions when someone else is doing it. Continue doing that, and eventually, what the real cool thing is the other person will find that the passive form of communication, which used to work with you, isn’t working anymore and they’ll eventually stop doing it because they won’t want to do something that doesn’t work.