Addressing Passive Behavior in the Workplace

Q. I cannot stand a person I have to work with very closely, he is a snake. We do many projects together that require complete teamwork. He acts like I work for him even though we are equals; he makes sure he is the one always giving a status report in meetings, making him look like the driver. Enough. How do I tell him to back off?

A. Your colleague has decided to prove his value to people he thinks will direct his future in having a successful career. What he doesn’t realize is you may have the opportunity to contribute to his success or failure. Failing to develop strong working relationships with colleagues can be a career derailer; however, what you are doing, and not doing is a greater concern. Planning an intervention for him is a great first step.

You need to own your career and take the opportunity to present your contributions and value at meetings. So first, set up a time to have a conversation with your colleague. Let him know you want to talk about how your roles intersect, and that it isn’t working as smoothly as you would like. Then arrange a time to meet for a full conversation, without name calling.


Brainstorm alternatives that give you the outcome you want. Why not propose alternating progress presentations at meetings? You share the project, and the chance for senior-level visibility. No one wants to look passive or not receive the credit deserved. He may not make it easy to have this happen; even if he agrees to your proposal, it is up to you to make it happen. Talk before the meeting and remind him if it is your day to present. If you need him, you’ll ask for support. You can announce that the two of you agreed to streamline reporting by alternating, and this week is yours. Then, because you prepared well, you’ll do a great job. If he interrupts, you can thank him and continue.


When people act like you report to them, and you don’t, you have a few options. Laughing is a good option. You can laugh and say, “That was funny – are you trying to act like I report to you? We’ll do better as colleagues.” You can also have a serious conversation with the same message.

Most likely there will always be snakes at work. You don’t need to be passive. Outline the issues and with a little courage you’ll start the changes, in your own behavior, you need to see.

-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

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