A Prayer for Passive Aggressive Resistance

you're doing it wrongOften online, and especially in the social media marketing biz, people resort to what we like to call “passive-aggressiveness,” which I will oversimplify by defining it as crabbing about something without naming names.

The second most-popular sport in social media, I suspect, is calling people cowards for being passive aggressive.

On the one hand, I have no problem with people calling others out directly, if they are willing to start a dialogue in which opposing viewpoints are debated rationally.

HA! Had you there. When is that going to happen?

I do believe that if we see things that we think are wrong, that we have a duty to correct them and offer a better way. I also agree with those that say slinging mud at each other is counterproductive. So what to do?

Passive-aggressiveness is the answer. But why? I have thought about it a bit, and here is my defense for you cowards people who want to tell it like it is:

  • There is no need to gratuitously call people out: The problem with naming names is that you could appear to condemn all that person does. Of course, a person is a sum of their being, and a professional is a sum of their professional acts, so that’s not fair. That said, if I think a friend can take a ribbing, I’ll jape with them directly, but humorously and always acknowledging the answer, whether I agree or not. We can make our points without having to attack people. ETA: Some people out there are thin-skinned, and perceive any criticism as an attack, or simply get defensive as a kneejerk reaction. Naming such people derails the conversation before it has begun. I’d rather discuss the issue rather than the people.
  • Universal application of concepts: Often, something we want to call out is practiced by many, so calling out one person, again, is unfair. People piled on Guy Kawasaki for continuing auto-tweets during the Boston Marathon bombing crisis, but he wasn’t the only one. Why single him out when there are plenty of targets? Plus, he responded like a baby so it wasn’t worth it and the point was lost (oops I’m breaking my rule).
  • Creative License: By this, I mean that there are different varieties of many bad practices. If you are too narrow in your focus, you may miss addressing a larger cure for a larger problem. What one person may be doing wrong is interesting, the bigger issue behind it all, and the solution, is afar more interesting.
  • Parody vs Personal Attacks: It’s much more fun to be funny. If you name names, you may tie yourself to the facts, and that’s certainly no fun. Passive-aggressive behavior gives you license to exaggerate, to be outrageous without cutting people down. You can be nasty and nice at the same time, and everybody wins.

Those are my thoughts on the matter. Feel free to attack me publicly and say I’m wrong (or use one of my handy rules above to attack me passive-aggressively).

Yeah, so I’m not going to name names here. We’re all probably doing something wrong anyway. Knock yourself out.

Photo Credit: The Happy Robot on Flickr

*Note: if you ever write a passive-aggressive social media blog post, let me know privately whom you are really complaining about. I love gossip.


  1. I agree because a) I hate conflict and b) if you name the person/people, you get accused of being a linkbaiter and everyone piles on that bandwagon and it just isn’t worth the trouble…can you tell I have personal experience with this? ;)

    At the same time, link-baiting hassles aside, I do wish people would just ball up and use names when they’re obviously talking about a person–saves me the trouble of trying to figure out who they’re talking about, and seems more mean-spirited, like talking about someone behind their back. Especially when they are obviously talking about a particular person, describing certain attributes about the person, etc. It just comes across as mean spirited and weak to me–either skip it entirely or just come out with the name already.

  2. Opposing viewpoints being debated rationally – there’s the rub. Most people high up on the social media food chain are so used to being adored by the social media sheep, er, I mean masses, that any disagreement with their ideology sets off a stream of anger and tears.

    It shouldn’t be that way. If you put your ideology out there, one should expect it to be questioned at some point. It happens in all art forms – why should social media “thought leaders” get a pass?

    I say, “Call them out!”

  3. […] I’m not going to link to a post and call anyone out, as I’m not interested in shaming anyone (who won’t care anyway) nor in feeding egos. It’s no news that social media posts are very self reverential–oops, I mean referential–and often that’s necessary to bring a personal point of view, but I have seen a spate of posts recently that give great points, but could use some editing. I think  perhaps a great editorial job for bloggers could be an “ego eraser.” Would that pay? I’m going to keep it passive-aggressive here because sometimes that’s how it should be. […]

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