Who? Me???
March 13, 2008 5:07 PM   Subscribe

What is it called when someone pretends to be all innocent, when they clearly aren't? For example, someone is continuously brushing you off, making snide comments... then when you confront them about it, or ask them what is wrong, they act like it's all in your head. (And often act insulted by the implication.)

Also, how do you deal with someone like this?

I know someone who does this (unconsciously, I believe), but I'm becoming very fed up with it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would call that passive-aggressive.
posted by Liosliath at 5:12 PM on March 13, 2008

Sounds passive aggressive?
posted by xmutex at 5:12 PM on March 13, 2008

It sounds like they are being passive-aggressive. If they are doing it consciously, then they are also being disingenuous by claiming that they aren't doing it.
posted by grouse at 5:14 PM on March 13, 2008

2nd'ing disingenuous. Adding solipsistic. Annoying any way you slice it.

Keep 'em at arm's length.
posted by rhizome at 5:17 PM on March 13, 2008

insidious, if they're doing it on purpose.
insensitive, if they're just a prick in general and don't realize or care that the way they are bothers you.

in either case, avoidance seems wise. if you can't avoid, i find that sometimes being frank is helpful. as in, when they show up say, "actually, i think i'd rather spend time with other people. it may all be in my head, but it's MY HEAD and I don't want you in it." in other words, call them out. don't let them just keep on mistreating you without putting up some fight.
posted by xz at 5:24 PM on March 13, 2008

feigning innocence
posted by jejune at 5:50 PM on March 13, 2008

In my experience, passive-aggressive people are consciously aware they're doing it, they just don't put a label on it. They make it out to be that there's something wrong with you, without actuallyy saying it. I second rhizome, except keep them as far away as possible, much more than an arm's length. I was married to a passive-aggressive for 23 years and it was hell. One of his favorite tactics was the silent treatment. Sad to say, I learned very well from him and I was able to go for days without speaking. I don't do that anymore.
posted by wv kay in ga at 5:51 PM on March 13, 2008

an asshole?

maybe a disingenuous one, but i don't think it's textbook passive-aggressiveness.

either way, i think it's important for them to at least meet you half-way, eg by saying "i honestly didn't mean it that way, but i can understand if you took it the way you did, so sorry, and i'll try not to act like that in future"

if they can't manage that, then cut them off if it bothers you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:52 PM on March 13, 2008

"That's the best you got?"

Or a more grammatically correct version, if you prefer. IOW, pretend to be offended at the person's ineptitude at dissing rather than the intention behind it. That way if they don't get one message ("knock it off") they'll get the other ("you're an idiot").
posted by trinity8-director at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fight fire with fire. Play dumb and innocently ask them to clarify their (snide) point. Then either they clarify it so that the snideness is overt, in which case you can take them to task directly (they won't do this - if they were going to be openly snide, they wouldn't have taken the coward's route in the first place), or (much more likely) they will back down by clarifying it into a different non-snide point, but in having to contort their words to make a plausible non-snide cover-story fast, the explanation will almost certainly be strange in some way (for example, while the statement might now be innocuous, under this new context it has become a statement that a normal person would never have felt any need to say, such as stating the obvious, but in a tone of voice that suggests the person thinks it is an insightful comment)
This is your cue to let on (raised eyebrow, puzzled look) that you're surprised they would say such as dumb thing, and you guess they're not as smart as you previously assumed.

If their attempts at passive-agressively trying to (for example) make you feel dumb, but instead result in you clearly getting the feeling that you are smarter than they (ie complete backfire), then they'll learn to stop. Work out what they're trying to achieve, and reward them with the opposite.

Caveat: The devil you know may be safer than the devil you don't. If they're the type who will try and be able to sabotage you in other (potentially more damaging) ways if their current tactic isn't working, then it might be easier to just pretend that their snipes are having the intended effect.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it's mild, I'd say it's passive-aggressive. If the 'snide comments' and things get more serious, you can call it "gaslighting."
posted by nkknkk at 6:09 PM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but I totally disagree with -harlequin-'s advice. It's really combating aggression with aggression, and this tactic usually results in unintended and undesirable consequences. Besides, it's just not professional or nice.

Generally, it's unwise to "confront" people after the fact. If a person is making a snide comment, immediately ask for clarification: what do you mean by that? If you think their remarks are unprofessional, tell them so. If they're brushing you off, big deal.

The important thing is: how is this affecting your work? Can you do your job?

If this is not work-related, then you may have to approach this person (perhaps a family member) explain what you think the problem is, and ask them why it is happening.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:15 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing passive aggressive.

How you deal with this is dependent on what type of relationship you have with them.

If they're an acquaintance and have no authority or sway over you or your happiness, I'd say greatly curtail contact with them. Better still, have no contact at all.

If they're your boss, ignore, focus on the work at hand, and limit contact. Avoid gossiping or bringing other co-workers into it.

If it's a co-worker who is your peer, I'd simply say, "I hope you have a good day, Bob", or something equally as irritatingly pleasant to them, and then walk away.

If they're a family member, I'd say something like, "What did you mean by that?", in my most pleasant, courteous voice every time. If they say, "Nothing.", I'd come back with "Oh. I misunderstood. I thought your tone of voice changed for a second, my mistake." or "Oh. I misunderstood. I thought that was a comment on my behavior. My mistake." Let's them know you know what's going on, but are going to be pleasant and direct about confronting it. If they're not conscious of what they're doing, they might start to think through their behavior.

If you love this person and your happiness is contingent upon theirs in any way, well, you need to have a frank, unemotional discussion about the behavior and stick to your guns when they deny it with specific examples and a clear statement of how it makes you feel. If you see no progress on their part, either learn to ignore it or seek therapy.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:31 PM on March 13, 2008

posted by 1 at 6:31 PM on March 13, 2008


Both yours and my methods are based on acting immediately and directly and openly, and I suspect they are pretty much the same method. For example, when I say play dumb and ask for clarification, perhaps you disagreement with that would subsist if I had phrased that as "ask for clarification without being defensive or angry or upset, despite your suspicion you were just insulted". This is courteous and professional, but at the end of the day, is also playing dumb.
My example deals with non-professional situations, yours with professional - this sort of thing alters the best way to communicate objection directly.

Perhaps I explained it poorly, as I suspect that even though you disagree, in the same situation, you and I would do the same things, in the same manner, with the same effect.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:37 PM on March 13, 2008

I have one of these people in my life. She's a (terrotorial, possesive, jealous) gf of a good male friend of mine. She glares and makes snide comments about anyone who dares get close, and then proceeds to deny that she did any such thing.

I gave up sometime last year trying to be friends with her. It's obvious she doesn't want it. These days, if we're in the same conversation group, I treat her civilly, but don't pay any attention to her. It's simply not worth the effort. I treat her the same way I treat most acquaintances; politely, but very distantly.
posted by ysabet at 6:47 PM on March 13, 2008

Being coy.
posted by Doohickie at 7:17 PM on March 13, 2008

Being a jerk.
posted by Beckminster at 7:20 PM on March 13, 2008

i'm in the disingenuous camp.
posted by violetk at 7:24 PM on March 13, 2008

I would go for 'duplicitous'
posted by that girl at 8:25 PM on March 13, 2008

If you did this sort of thing in Australia, the victim of it might accuse you of "white-anting" them. White ants are a euphemism for termites; this sort of behaviour is analagous to the way in which termites might undermine the integrity of a building but leave the surface appearance intact.

Which is really a very apt analogy.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:19 PM on March 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

posted by kosher_jenny at 2:27 AM on March 14, 2008

What is it called when...


Ignore 'em.
posted by hadjiboy at 5:27 AM on March 14, 2008

I say avoid the person if you can. You can pick your friends. If it's a family member, then by all means, try and help them beat this bad habit, because it's probably hurting them too, in some area of their life.
posted by Laugh_track at 5:52 AM on March 14, 2008

If this person is really doing this unconsciously, then I'd say "idiotic". Few people are that blind to their surroundings.

If consciously, then yes, passive-agressive. The upside is, this person views you as a sufficient threat to feel the need to undermine you. The downside is, this is a battle you don't win easily. Your best bet (and nthing everyone else) is to just ignore the person, or treat them with distant civility.
posted by LN at 6:03 AM on March 14, 2008

I think I just had a revelation reading the original post.

Someone I know has been doing this to me....

Oh man I'm pissed.
posted by Schuby at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2008

Passive-aggressive, disingenuous, manipulative. More informally, "toxic" and "asshole."

People like this usually don't change. AVOID. Never ever date them, work for them, loan them anything worth more than $0.50, or share any deep dark secrets with them.

(Note: assholes are like Pokemon. Disingenuchu can evolve into Backstabasaur, and then into Ruinyourlifezard.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:40 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

textbook passive-aggressiveness

Isn't passive-aggressive one of those outdated terms (like 'anal') that have become popular with lay people, but are now eschewed by psychology?

I like disingenuous (although it's a rather difficult word to define -- a possible synonym is insincere) but more common and perhaps useful (if they're doing it intentionally) is invalidator.
Read Nasty People by Jay Carter.
posted by Rash at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

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