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12 Passive-Aggressive Phrases That Can Destroy Your Business Maybe you think you're being polite, but everybody else thinks you're being a jerk.

By John Rampton

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Christian Gstöttmayr | Getty Images

I've been told that I'm a bit passive-aggressive. I didn't really get it until I started evaluating some of the simple-yet-destructive words I was saying. If you've encountered an act of passive-aggression then you already know that it's never the best way to resolve a conflict. And, if you're like me and been dishing it out, you also know that it's never the best way to resolve conflicts.

Passive-aggressive behavior is frustrating for both parties involved. It's unproductive and it makes you and others become less trusted in the workplace. After allowing my behavior to destroy a few relationships (that I didn't even realize was happening) I decided to figure out what I was doing and fix it immediately.

Here's 12 common passive-aggressive phrases and the true meaning behind them, so that next time you encounter them, you'll know how to proceed a little better and in a more productive manner.


My best friend recently brought this phrase to my attention. As my friend pointed out, whenever someone tells you that everything is "fine," that always means the opposite. It turns out this is pretty spot-on. Signe Whitson L.S.W. states in Psychology Today that the "passive aggressive person uses phrases like 'Fine' in order to express anger indirectly and to shut down direct, emotionally honest communication."

Related: Forget Glitter Bombs: Here's a New Passive-Aggressive Way to Shame Your Bad Neighbors

“No worries.”

Actually, you do have worries. Christine Schoenwald elaborates in Thought Catalog that "This translates to "I'm saying no worries but what I actually mean is screw you. I won't say what I'm really feeling but will hold it against you until I explode.'"

“If you really want to.”

This may appear to be accommodating at first, but don't be fooled. Whenever you say this, you're actually being noncommittal. It may sound like you're going along with the plan, but inside, you're not all that thrilled. You just don't know how to communicate those feelings, or you may think that the other person will be mad.

“Thanks in advance.”

I'm horrible at this one and something I'm working on each day. Another phrase that may appear innocent at first. But it pretty much means that you're expecting them to do whatever it is you're asking and they pretty much have to do it. This damages your relationship with this person.

“I was surprised/confused/curious about …”

When you hear or see this text you can be certain that it's used to disguise criticism, as opposed to be being upfront. Jennifer Winter recalls on The Muse the time she had a colleague who used phrases such as this as "an attempt to soften the blow." Winter, however, "took it as a stab in the back because my boss was in attendance -- and that feeling led me to promptly ignore her feedback."

Related: Is Your Workplace a 'Jerkplace?' Here Is How to Fix It.

“I’m not mad.”

This one destroyed my relationship with my ex-wife. I never expressed how I truly felt. I've now learned to voice my opinions openly and be honest with my spouse. It's the same in the workplace. Yes. This person is livid. They're just not being honest with you. I find that whenever I use this phrase I don't feel like I can be honest with the person. Learn to express how you feel.


I once had a disagreement with a friend that took place over text messaging. When they dropped the "whatever" response I almost went through the roof. It was infuriating because I knew that they did care, they just didn't want to keep that discussion going. The phrase signals that this person is mad, and now you are too. It's not helping.

“So …”

How can a two-letter word pack such a punch? Because most of the time it's followed by text that is either awkward or it shows their agitation. For example, "So ... are we going to the movies tonight?" or "So ... did you get my email?" The person on the other side is clearly agitated that you haven't responded yet. And that's a problem when you honestly haven't had a chance to get back to them.

Or, it could be the beginning of an uncomfortable conversation, they just don't know how to come out and say it. When someone says, "So ..." to me, and then that weird pause, I have the almost irresistible desire to say, "so ... what?" And make an exit. This can even be expressed in the content marketing you put up on your website.

“Just wondering …”

You see this text when someone is asking you for an unreasonable request, such as, "Just wondering if you were in the city tomorrow and could pick up my brother for the train station?" Even if you were in the city, the train station could be nowhere close to where you're at. In other words, this person knows that they shouldn't be asking you for this favor, but they're going to ask anyway. Do keep in mind that some shy people may use this question when asking if you want to go somewhere, or do something with them. Like, "I was just wondering if you would like to go to the movies with me?"

Related: The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Email

“I was only joking.”

Sarcasm is one the most common manifestations of passive aggressiveness. If this person makes a comment that upsets you and this is what follows, then you know it wasn't a joke at all. They meant what they said, but are backing away to cover up their true feelings. This is an especially damaging phrase when used in a relationship or (often) in front of other people, as a put-down.

“Hope it’s worth it.”

This phrase should be rather obvious. The person you're communicating with clearly doesn't want you to do something, but is well-aware that you're going to do so anyway. Instead of expressing their concern, they'll leave with this passive aggressive text and stew until it become a major issue. This person will also beg you to tell them about it later so they can use the phrase again on you. It's a shaming phrase.

“Your thoughts?”

In most cases I find this a pretty harmless phrase. Asking someone their thoughts on dinner, etc. However, this phrase can even be used a way to tell someone that they screwed up. "Your behavior has been subpar at work. Your thoughts?" or "I wasn't that happy with how this assignment turned out. Your thoughts?" Both of these are passive aggressive and damage your relationship with the person.

Your thoughts ... on this article? What other phrases do you find yourself or others using that are passive aggressive? I'm not mad, just tell me.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.


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