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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

12 Jul '12

Hidden agendas and passive aggressive behavior

Have you ever worked with someone who is passive aggressive? Probably all of us have. What lies behind this behavior are hidden agendas - a desire to get somewhere on some issue that is kept hidden rather than stated up front. What is unhealthy about the behavior is not the agenda itself - all of us have them, but the fact that an individual is not willing to be honest about their agenda with others.


Hidden agendas and passive aggressive behavior are actually a form of dishonesty that destroys trust. It is dishonest in that the actual agenda of an individual is unstated and hidden. Therefore it is not possible for others to address it. Either they must guess at the agenda or they figure it out from behaviors but it is still difficult to put on the table because it is unstated. 


In our organization we have a principle called Robust Dialogue where any issue can be put on the table with the exception of personal attacks or hidden agendas. The reason there cannot be hidden agendas is that you cannot have honest dialogue when they are present. What you actually have is a surface dialogue with other issues underlying the conversation that remain unstated.


Hidden agendas are often a way of trying to outmaneuver or undermine another individual without stating it. When this happens on church boards or teams it creates an underlying conflict in the group which may or may not be recognized but it is surely felt. 


I was once called by a pastor who had a former leader in his church pushing him to take a sabbatical. He and the board were thinking that maybe it was a good idea. After asking a few questions it became clear that this individual had a history of undermining the senior pastor. 


In dialogue it became clear that he most likely had a hidden agenda in his suggestion - getting the senior pastor out of town so that he could undermine his leadership. He clearly had an agenda that he was not stating and that was therefore dishonest. Rather than stating his issues up front he was maneuvering from behind. 


This is why healthy organizations make it clear that in their culture they will not tolerate hidden agendas and call people on it when they exhibit passive aggressive behavior or there is indication that there is an agenda behind the stated agenda. We are too lax in allowing behaviors that are toxic and unhealthy. Rather we ought to set a standard and then hold people to them. It may be something you need to talk with your organization, board or team about.