11 phrases that seem friendly but are actually passive-aggressive 

Feeling confused about someone’s response or wondering whether they’ve been nice or insulting is typical of a passive-aggressive interaction. 

When a person acts passive-aggressively, they say and do things to hide their anger while “getting back” at the victim. 

Whether a spouse, coworker, or family member, they can leave you emotionally drained and constantly doubting yourself. 

Is this how you feel? 

If so, it’s important to understand these 11 phrases that seem friendly but are passive-aggressive. That way, you can put an end to this emotional rollercoaster that can turn into turmoil in your life. 

1) “Sure, whatever you want. “

You ask your spouse if they mind taking out the trash. Their response is, “Yes, sure honey, whatever you want,” as they bite down on their back teeth. 

When they answer your question, they’ll say “yes” or “sure” to acknowledge what you’ve asked. Then comes “whatever you want,” which really means, “I’m tired of being controlled all the time, and yes, I mind.” 

“Sure, whatever you want” is a sarcastic retort. 

It’s a phrase that seems friendly on the surface because it sounds like they’re appeasing you, but there’s definitely an underlying passive-aggressive tone

2) “You look so good when you put in the effort.”

Did I just receive a compliment, or was that actually an insult? 

When you feel confused by the comments or so-called “compliments” of someone else, it’s a sign that they’re being passive-aggressive and manipulative

Their intention is to misdirect you, so you think that they’re saying something nice about your appearance, but the addition of “when you put in the effort” implies that you don’t always look good or that you don’t generally take care of yourself. 

In a manipulative relationship, this passive-aggressive phrase is meant to confuse you by creating self-doubt and diminishing your confidence. 

3) “Oh, I thought you knew.”

Sometimes, being passive-aggressive is about omitting specific information you don’t want someone else to know. 

When someone deliberately leaves you out of the loop and pretends to be surprised that you don’t know about a situation, they’re trying to gain the upper hand. 

Some display this type of passive-aggressive behavior out of spite. If they’re angry with you, they know that withholding information will make you upset, but when you find out about it, they claim their innocence by sympathetically saying, “I thought you knew about it.” 

It’s a cat-and-mouse game. 

You feel upset, and they get off scot-free when they’ve orchestrated the entire situation. 

4) “I was only joking with you.”

In the moment, this might seem like a gentle way to let you know someone didn’t mean what they said. It was, after all, just a silly joke, right?

Or was it? 

Passive aggressiveness usually rears its ugly head in the form of sarcasm. Whether a significant other or a friend, they make a “joke” at your expense, and when your reaction is nothing but subdued, they tell you to lighten up or want you to know that they’re “joking.” 

The situation can play out in two ways. You know that it wasn’t a joke and call them out, or you think to yourself, maybe I was overreacting? 

Most of us end up questioning our feelings, and we become confused by the situation. The more these types of “jokes” are made at your expense, the more they contribute to self-doubt and low self-esteem. 

5) “I’m fine.”

phrases to avoid if you want to sound like a strong and confident person 1 11 phrases that seem friendly but are actually passive-aggressive 

A typical passive-aggressive phrase that people use to hide their true feelings is “I’m fine.” 

I know exactly what it feels like to deal with this kind of attitude. An ex of mine would get irritated quickly or, some days, completely withdraw. When I’d ask about how they were feeling, I’d get a response like, “Don’t worry, everything’s just fine.” 

While this was said with a smile, I could always detect the passive-aggressive undertone. 

In relationships, we can’t read our partner’s mind, and it’s unfair to expect someone else to figure your emotions out rather than be open and honest. 

The words “I’m fine” or “everything’s fine” are friendly on the surface, but they’re passive-aggressive sayings. They stem from frustration, sadness, and disappointment when someone can’t figure out your emotions. 

6) “You always want things to be perfect.”

This is usually expressed out of frustration. While it can come across as friendly or endearing, the underlying message is quite the opposite. 

What are they really saying? 

With a broad smile on their face, your friend or spouse tells you that you always want things to be perfect. In other words, you have such unrealistic expectations and standards that it’s impossible to meet them. 

It usually happens in a situation when you’ve asked someone to do something, and they usually carry it out in an unsatisfactory way. For example, you ask your significant other to prepare dinner, and they end up making a dish that you aren’t too fond of, and they know this.

You point out their fault or express your dissatisfaction, and they let you know that you have an unreasonably high standard that they can’t meet. 

It’s a defensive response intended to make you feel bad. 

7) “You’ve done well, considering your background.”

The backhanded compliment is a classic passive-aggressive move. 

Giving someone a compliment is one of the friendliest gestures that you can make. “Great job” and “You’ve done so well” are motivating compliments, but if someone says, “You’ve done so well, considering your background,” it doesn’t seem that motivational and kind anymore. 

The passive-aggressive person who is competitive cannot give you a wholehearted compliment. They plant a seed of self-doubt that makes you second-guess whether they’re being nice or downright nasty. 

If what someone says makes you feel like leaving the room or screaming at the top of your lungs, then they’re not being authentic

8) “Just a friendly reminder.”

Your boss pops into your office to check on your progress with the annual reports. “Oh, just a friendly reminder.” You can feel your skin crawl. 

It’s not just a friendly reminder. 

It is a passive-aggressive way of keeping tabs on you and letting you know that they expect you to deliver. 

Some of the most common friendly but passive-aggressive phrases to look out for in the workplace include “will do,” “please advise,” and “as per our previous conversation.” 

While these are considered formal responses or requests, they should always be considered in context. If a colleague or manager uses these terms in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable, then it might not come from a good place. 

9) “I’m sorry I forgot.”

Yes, you conveniently forgot! 

Remember that a passive-aggressive attitude is usually about covert retaliation. The person using these tactics wants to get back at you for something you said or did without creating additional conflict or confrontation. 

For example. 

In a relationship, you might have arranged to meet your partner for lunch, and they don’t pitch, or a few minutes prior to the meeting, they let you know that they won’t make it. They tell you that they forgot, but it could be an intentional maneuver. 

There are times when we do genuinely forget things, but when it becomes a pattern along with constant sarcasm and backhanded compliments, then you’ve got to look for signs of passive-aggressive behavior.  

This constant tug-of-war also creates unhappiness in a relationship and is not a healthy way to live. 

10) “Sure, I don’t mind.”

phrases used by conversational narcissists to manipulate you 3 11 phrases that seem friendly but are actually passive-aggressive 

When you hear seemingly friendly phrases such as “Sure, I don’t mind” or “Sure, I’d be happy to,” you’d think the other person is trying to be helpful. In reality, they’re rolling their eyes and faking their smile

They’re annoyed and angry. 

It doesn’t have to come from someone close to you. You could be on the phone with a sales manager trying to resolve an issue with an order. Their use of the above phrases is not out of politeness but rather an attempt to hide their irritation or discontent. 

11) “I’m not mad.”

You’ve had a disagreement with a friend, relative, or even a colleague at work. You notice subtle changes in their body language and attitude towards you. When you ask if everything’s been resolved or whether they’re still upset, they’ll respond, “No, I’m not mad.” 

Meanwhile, they’re infuriated. 

It’s a typical passive-aggressive approach that could be mistaken for “everything’s good; don’t worry about it.” 

Denial of one’s true feelings is a passive-aggressive stance. If someone cannot be honest about their emotions, they build resentment that becomes evident in their behaviors and attitudes. 

Final thoughts

If you’ve been the target of passive-aggressive behavior, I want to tell you that you’re not going crazy! The intention of the passive-aggressive is to confuse, frustrate, and hurt you. So, do you call them out, or do you ignore the situation? 

Here’s what you should do. 

Look for patterns in the way they communicate. Do they use some “friendly” but passive-aggressive phrases that leave you filled with self-doubt or second-guessing yourself? 

If you’ve said yes, it’s time to work on yourself by implementing some serious boundaries. Honest communication about why you feel their behavior is upsetting creates awareness.

Only discuss this when you’re calm, or it could trigger more unwanted attitudes and behaviors. 

Picture of Marcel Deer

Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

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