Do you realise you’re being passive aggressive at work?

Psychological safety, the ‘enabler’ of a healthy and prosperous workplace, is being embraced fully by Glasgow-based business founder and Managing Director, Angela Prentner-Smith of This is Milk.

The agency which employs 11 staff and has a number of international clients has launched a Psychological Safety Indexing service.

What is psychological safety?

First explored by scholars in the 1960s, psychological safety is re-emerging as a hot topic and the language we use and how we use it is also something businesses should be mindful of.

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. This means an absence of interpersonal fear. When psychological safety is present, people can speak up with work-relevant content.

Are we unknowingly being passive aggressive?

One major consideration with psychological safety is the language we use. Whether unintended or not, passive aggressive language can contribute negatively to workplace culture and erode psychological safety within a team.

Caroline Goyder, best-selling author, course creator and coach says: “Passive aggressive communication often masks what is going on inside the person doing it and all their feelings of fear and anxiety. In their heads is a big, booming voice telling them they must stay in control, that they must be dominant. That’s because they’re frightened, petrified of someone finding them out. So they try to hide their terror. They interrupt, they don’t listen and above all they don’t take responsibility. Everyone else is the problem. It’s never their fault. They try to frighten people into submission.”

As part of their commitment to highlighting the benefits of psychological safety, This is Milk took to the streets of Glasgow to find out if people know what psychological safety means. Which phrases at work might be deemed passive aggressive?

Here are the top 10 most commonly used passive aggressive phrases used in the workplace:

  • Please advise
  • Noted
  • Kind regards
  • Friendly reminder
  • Will do
  • Thanks in advance
  • Per our last conversation
  • Circling back
  • As per our last email
  • As promised

Psychological Safety Indexing has already been warmly received by several This is Milk’s clients in Scotland. MD, Angela Prentner-Smith says: “Research findings back up what we already know from our work on with clients. Passive aggressive behaviour is so incredibly damaging and is one of the main reasons an organisation isn’t thriving. This type of communication whether verbal, body language or in emails leads to feelings of stress, isolation, a lack of communication which reduces productivity, positivity and ultimately will destroy and workplace culture if not tackled.”

She added “Psychological safety engenders trust, confidence and inspiration and positive feelings. When we feel safe we become more broad minded, resilient, motivated, persistent, curious. We laugh more and find solutions easily as our thinking becomes more divergent”.

Angela says “The demonstrable benefits of a safe working space are felt on many levels including greater staff retention and engagement, and an improvement in productivity that increases innovation and creativity.” What’s more, “repeated failures decrease, which invariably results in an increase in profit.”