How to interact with passive-aggressive Aunt Phyllis
Hard Conversations Example #1:
As you may know, mediation and conflict coaching is part of my work. I thought it would be helpful to share some ideas.
Many of my friends on social media are making really thoughtful, conscious posts about racial injustice. And then, I read the comments…
The passive aggressive ones are common: the friend or family member that doesn’t actually acknowledge the content of your post, but instead posts about something unrelated, that seeks to contradict you, and shares incredibly biased, highly politicized content. My “favorite” is when it’s simply a meme.
So how do you navigate these responses?
Well, the first thing to determine is if it is worthwhile to engage. Ask yourself, “Could my energy be better spent educating myself, unwinding my own biases or taking some other specific action toward dismantling racism?” (Pro Tip: The answer to this question is almost always yes.)
Even so, perhaps this is somebody that you actually have a real relationship with, or you feel responsible to address comments on your page. Sometimes, your responses are also beneficial for the other readers of your post.
If you’re determined that you are going to respond, here are my suggestions:
Acknowledge the person by name and speak kindly and directly.
You can even acknowledge their concern without agreeing.
At this point, you can choose to respond to any fallacies they are sharing with facts (not emotions).
Or you can simply call them out on their passive aggressive behavior by redirecting the post back to its original purpose.
After you feel done engaging (I suggest keeping it brief), make it clear that you are ending the conversation with a polite but firm goodbye.
Often they will try to re-engage you or hook you back in some way. Do your best not to take the bait.
You: You post about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, with heartfelt commentary.
Aunt Phyllis: “Well, I just can’t believe they are destroying the statues.” (posts random video of violence from sketchy source)
You: Hi Aunt Phyllis. I see that you are concerned about the damage being done to the statues. This post was simply to educate people on the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which destroyed more than 35 square blocks, including the area known as Black Wall Street.
(acknowledge by name + acknowledge their comment + redirect back to content of your post + facts)
Aunt Phyllis: “Well, there’s just absolutely no excuse for all this violence. And people are making it all about race and that’s just making it worse.”
You: Violence is an incredibly difficult thing to witness, isn’t it? And yes, our world has chosen and continues to politicize and weaponize race, and now we are seeing the direct results of that choice.
(acknowledge and find common ground without agreeing to her point)
Aunt Phyllis: “Well…I think we all need to get over it.”
You: It sounds like you have your opinions about the solution. My solution is to continue to educate myself, and others, through posts like this. Hope you are otherwise well! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
(acknowledge her without needing to change her mind + state your position + close conversation)
Aunt Phyllis: “Well, I’m plenty educated already! Maybe YOU’RE the one who needs to learn more.” (do NOT get hooked back in)
While your responses will never be this formulaic, this is meant to help guide you. One of the biggest things humans seek is acknowledgment. That is why I have stressed that here. It is an important skill to learn how to acknowledge someone without agreeing with them.
Good luck and thank you for showing up for hard conversations in your life.