One of the cool things about my new job is that I get to manage several units of a research facility. One of the most aggravating things about my new job is that I have to manage several units of a research facility.

I have two employees that I swear, one of these days, I am going to just smack their heads together like coconuts.

Any tips for dealing with two employees who don’t like each other and are overtly passive aggressive?

Here’s some fun from, a treasure trove of amazingness.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. As manager, can you take advantage of the concept of superordinate goals to get them to overlook their problems and possibly learn to get along? Working together on a common problem can have that effect.

    Although the coconut idea sounds great too.

  2. I’ve been in your situation before a couple of times, from both sides (I was annoying in my youth :( ), and while I don’t claim to be Jesus or anything, here’s my advice for what it’s worth…

    Firstly, from your description the implication is that this is affecting the work dynamic (for want of a better phrase) in your lab/office/lair. That means that a boundary has been crossed, and is being repeatedly crossed. If they want to slug it out in a bar after work then fine, but you need to be firm and explain that whatever this problem is, it must not be allowed to continue to spill over into the work place.

    Having established that, the best way (imho) to deal with the matter is to sit them down together to talk. You could do this with you and them in the room, or perhaps you could arrange for a third party (perhaps your institute has a counsellor?) to sit in and mediate. The very nature of this kind of sulky, passive-aggressive behaviour is that it’s defensive and uncommunicative. Putting them into a place where they have to talk to each other and explain their problems out in the open breaks down that artificial barrier, and might get them on a path to being able to work together.

    I hope some of that helps!

  3. When I feel things get tense with someone I will just confront them in a non confrontational way. Maybe you could do something like that with all 3 of you sitting down to see what the problem is. For me, getting things out in the open diffuses many situations. I love that passive aggressive site.

  4. The sad thing is, I’ve tried both of these approaches. They are just so convinced that their way is right, and the other is wrong, they don’t seem to notice (or care?) that they are tearing the place apart.

    On the other hand, at least what I’ve tried so far seems to be on the right track, given your suggestions…..

  5. Hi, for some reason my comments aren’t appearing!

  6. At any rate, here’s (roughly) what I posted last night:

    I’ve had this problem before myself, and while I don’t claim to have all the answers, I think you need to do two things, imho.

    Firstly, I think you need to start being a bit strict. You need to explain to them both in no uncertain terms that it is unacceptable for whatever problem they have to spill over into the workplace, and that if it continues there will be consequences, like higher-ups getting involved. I know it’s a bit hard to do, but you need to establish that there is a boundary, and you need to make it clear to them that they cannot keep crossing it.

    Secondly, I think you need to sit them down and get them to hash it out. If it’s not worked before then keep at it, maybe bring in a useful 3rd party mediator – if your institution has a counselling servive, perhaps one of them could come and help out?

  7. Ugh! P/A types are some of the worst to deal with, almost as bad as the sociopaths (yes, I’ve worked/taught with such, ::brr:: ). Of all the sites I have read,
    this one
    seems to be the most helpful.

    Be especially aware of these two types described:

    “The Convenient Contributor-This person does as little as possible while the boss is around. As soon as the boss is unavailable, he dreams up a task that needs accomplishing. This task of course requires approval, and since the boss is not available it is necessary to go over his head to the next-line of management for action approval. Would the boss have been around, he could have dealt with the task. The boss may complain about the lacking performance of this individual, but to upper management, this person takes initiative and ownership for getting the job done. The boss’ claims lose credibility and make him seem unappreciative that the employee took care of business while he was out.

    “The Well-Timed White Knight-Waiting for the right time to step in and save the day, this person waits until the boss is unavailable or out of the office to create a crisis. He then steps in and goes over the boss’ head, seeking out his manager/director in order to gain approval for necessary actions that must be taken. Luckily, at least this person could be counted on to do what needs to be done in order to take care of the work crisis at hand while the boss is out. The boss seems partially unreliable, and this person looks like a hero.”


  8. Martin–your comments went into Spam (!??).
    I rescued them. :)

  9. OMg–check this out:

    report on a scholarly article:

    David Sims, “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations,” Organization Studies 26, no. 11 (2005): 1625-1640.

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