He arrived a half hour late and offered no apology for the rudeness. He sat back from the table, alternately leaning back in the chair with his arms reaching behind his head or rubbing his eyes with his hands. His eyes wandered, expressing boredom and disinterest in the conversation. He said nothing during the whole meeting.
He was not there as an observer. He was there to discuss a partnership, a potential working agreement with the other attendees. His supervisor was also in the room.
No one confronted him. No one asked if he had a problem or if there was some reason he was not participating or if the meeting should be re-scheduled. The meeting continued with tension in the room and without resolution.
The others left with a sense of frustration, time wasted, questions unanswered… and just a hint, down deep, of self-doubt… wondering if somehow they were the cause of that strange behavior, or if somehow they had done something wrong, or if the other was normal behavior and they were the strange ones to expect something different…
From the outside, from a position of healthy relationships, I wanted to scream for them… THAT IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR! In emotionally healthy work environments, people do not act that way at meetings! And if they did, someone would say something to them… quickly!
That was clearly passive aggressive behavior designed to intimidate, discourage, and display lack of respect and value for the others attending the meeting. It was immature, inappropriate and rude behavior.
Sadly, in an isolated setting, without healthy examples around, it is easy to lose perspective and not recognize the harmful behavior. Or when someone has been through too many situations where they are not respected or valued or validated, a person can begin to perceive the negative behaviors as normal. Psychologists sometimes identify this as learned helplessness, and it is common in physical abusive situations also. Others react with anger in return.
How can we teach the ones we care about to recognize emotional abuse when they experience it? How can we help them respond with confidence and control, without allowing the passive aggressive offender to affect their minds or the meeting?
Have you faced situations like this? What would you suggest?