The difficulty with both passive and passive/aggressive people is that the channel of communication isn’t there.
At least with aggressive people you know what they are thinking, and you know what they want!
Meanwhilewhile the passive person is just sitting there with everything bottled up, and the passive/aggressive person is taking it out behind your back, in what they say to other people or even what they DO when you’re not around – and you don’t know.
If you feel that the person is unlikely to change then the main question is “Does it matter?”. It’s more THEIR problem than yours if they don’t express an opinion, if they’re not happy, or if they are building up stress and unhappiness.
As long as you give them an opportunity to speak up,if they don’t take it then that’s up to them, they are grown ups Of course there is a price that you are paying, in reduced performance, it’s not really as good for the team as a whole, and there’s a risk that they will blow up one day, but tackling their quietness may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Generally I think the best way to handle passive people is to be a great listener – take a bit of time to give them a chance to open up without being rushed, and use the questioning funnel where you start with open questions and then move to probing questions.
So you would start with “What do you think of the new plan?” and then move on to “Why do you think it won’t work?” and “What do you mean by fatally flawed exactly?”. The more you listen to them, and show that you have listened by taking action on their ideas, the more they will open up to you.
A stronger way to try to get passive people to be more open is to challenge them with something called “I notice – I interpret – Am I right?”.
For example you could say “Sally I notice that you haven’t said anything but you’re looking quite unhappy, and I interpretthis to mean that you think it’s a bad plan, am I right?”
This forces Sally to come out and say what her worries are, even though she probably doesn’t want to speak up and tell the whole team that their plan is no good. We’re not trying to change Sally, we’re just trying to get her to speak up in this particular situation, when the team needs to hear from her.
This same technique can be useful for dealing with rumours and things that are being said behind your back. You could say “John, I hear that you think the 5 Year Change Plan is a load of rubbish, is that right?” or “John, rumour has it that you are strongly against the new pay structure, is that the case?”.
Often the passive people are thinkers and observers, so their views can be very valuable, so as well as trying to get them to speak up you could ask them what they WANT to happen, and even involve them in fixing the problem. Then they HAVE to interact in an open way with you and the rest of the team, and they have to be positive rather than undermining things in the background.
Thinking about the passive or passive/aggressive people that you know, do you think that it matters that they aren’t speaking up as much as they could? Do you think that being a great listener would help – in fact, COULD you be a better listener do you think? Could you be more patient or better at questioning?
And would it be a good plan to ask them for their views more often, even commenting on the fact that their face is indicating unhappiness and is that actually how they feel? What’s going to be your plan for getting more out of these passive people?