Thursday, March 4th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


Dealing with a Passive Communicator

When I stayed with my grandmother, we would listen to radio programs such as the "Green Hornet,' 'Boston Blackie,' and 'The Phantom.' The Phantom sparked my imagination.

Here was a person who would sneak around in the shadows. He did things and no one could catch him because he was almost invisible.

Only the phantom knew who was responsible for a certain action, but he wasn't talking! Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with the phantom when we try to relate to our passive partner's communication style. It is difficult to know where he stands or wants. We may think that we do not really know this person at all.

Our action at a restaurant may be an example of what some of us will do if we are a passive communicator. The server brings out our food. We notice that our steak, instead of being cooked medium well, is rare. What do we do? Do we make an embarrassing scene by ranting and raving? We may even do some name calling. Or do we say nothing to the server and go ahead and eat the food? In retaliation we may not even leave a tip. We vow never to come back to this restaurant again.

The restaurant owner and server have no idea that we did not like the food. Do you complain to your partner and decide that you will never come back to this restaurant again? If you are the one who makes a scene, you probably are the aggressive communicator. If you say nothing but decide never to come back, you are probably the passive communicator.

Harvey is a salesperson and is very likeable. When he wants something he becomes so wordy and 'beats around the bush' to the point you want to scream, 'Say what you want and get to the point!' You find yourself trying to finish the sentence for him like a game of charades. You get the impression that he is so afraid of saying the wrong things or offending someone that we all get lost in all the words. By the time he is done, you don't know what he wants.

It seems that in every organization or group there is a phantom who is passive aggressive. When upset, they deal with their anger in a passive way by being negative and complaining. Instead of coming to us, they talk behind our backs. We can feel their negativity and often see them in a corner complaining to another worker or member.

Sometimes, the passive person will tell you something like this, 'Don't say anything, but some people are saying such and such about you.'

What do we do with that information? I ask the person sharing this 'gossip' why, if I cannot confront those talking about me, did she share it with me?' Often, the 'some people' she is quoting is herself!

Next month we will examine the aggressive communicator.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700