Do you have anyone who really pushes your buttons? Someone who you don't really understand and who manages to irritate you mightily at times?
It is a common situation. It is also common to respond by being "reactive," that is, with emotion, either to them, often to others and to make assumptions about their intentions and motives. It is also easy to shoot off emails that we might want to take back when we find out that our assumptions were not accurate.
Some people will actually seek to cause reaction on your part by their actions.
While all of us are "reactive" from time to time, generally it is not a good sign of emotional intelligence and we should learn how to not react, not allow our blood pressure to go up and not to become angry because when we do we usually respond in ways that are not helpful or healthy.
When I hear about someones actions or words or attitudes that might have caused me to react in years past, my goal now is to "think grey." Thinking grey is listening to the information, soliciting other information without drawing any conclusions as to whether the conclusion others may be drawing is accurate. This is actually one of the secrets of good leaders. They do listen, they do want to know and if something sounds problematic they do want to find out the truth. But in the process, they think grey and refuse to draw hard and fast conclusions until they have enough context and information.
It is a wise thing to do. Sometimes the information is not accurate. Sometimes the information is accurate but the conclusions those around you have drawn are not accurate. Often, motives are misjudged as bad when they are not. The behavior may have been problematic and harmful but rarely are the motives truly destructive. As someone has wisely put it, "Never attribute to poor motives what can easily be attributed to stupidity."
Thinking grey does not mean that we intend to ignore the issue or not confront the individual. It means that we will do so when our information is such that it is reasonable and when circumstances are right.
This brings me to another trait of great leaders. They have quiet resolve. Rarely will they react with anger and often they will think grey. But once they are aware of a problem they display a quiet resolve to deal with it, even if it is an uncomfortable situation to deal with.
I often tell those around me, "do not underestimate my resolve." Anyone who does is in for a surprise because I am committed to a healthy work environment, committed to the guiding principles and core commitments and practices and culture of our organization. Waiting for clarity, or for the right time to address problematic situations or people is not weakness. It is simply wisdom - and quiet resolve.
One other thought. With passive aggressive individuals who cause problems to you or the organization it is often not wise to immediately confront them. They will deny the allegation and play to what you want to hear (passive behavior) while behind your back they display contempt or attempt to undermine you. They will also play the victim to others when confronted. Holding passive aggressive individuals accountable is like trying to get your arms around smoke.
Again, quiet resolve comes into play. You don't ignore but you do wait because passive aggressive people will usually hang themselves if you give them enough rope. You wait and eventually they will do something public enough and egregious enough that those around them see them for what they are and you have the support you need to confront, hold them accountable and be so defining of what behavior is and is not acceptable that they will either conform or leave or you have the ammunition to take action should it happen again.
The ironic thing is that passive aggressive individuals often think they have the upper hand when dealing with leaders with good EQ. The truth is that those leaders are simply waiting for them to show their true stripes at which time they will take decisive action.
Good Emotional Intelligence and wisdom will almost always win out over poor Emotional Intelligence and stupidity. Control your reactions, think grey and commit to a quiet resolve.
For more reading on Emotional Intelligence see Emotional Intelligence Revisited