I get a lot of email from people who are having workplace issues with co-workers or bosses. Although I am glad to help in any way I can, I think it’s ironic that people will communicate with me rather than doing what could maybe solve the problem in the first place — directly communicating with the person they’re actually having the problem with. (For more on this, see the video below.)

I realize that it’s difficult to communicate sometimes, especially with a person that is displaying a major attitude problem in the first place. But there are a couple of problems with staying silent.

First of all, you wouldn’t believe how many times someone projects an attitude without even realizing it. Many of us tend to take certain behaviors personally when they’re not intended for us. I remember one time a co-worker confessed that when he was hired he was scared to death of me. It was because, throughout the day, I would frequently make these (what he interpreted as) impatient sighs. In actuality, I was about 412 months pregnant and extremely uncomfortable all the time.

So you might be feeling hostility from a co-worker when, in fact, the behavior has nothing to do with you, and you’ve stressed over nothing.

A second reason for speaking up is this: The modern workplace is awash with passive-aggressive warfare. Almost everyone has to deal with a Machiavellian boss or co-worker at some time or another. You can spend your days munching Rolaids and worrying about the next step in your own covert defense tactic, or you can speak to the person you’re having a problem with. By bringing a topic into the light of a conversation in a non-confrontational manner, you can diffuse the passive-aggressive power.

Now, of course, there are people out there who do not respond to civil conversation or constructive criticism; those people are a little trickier, and the appropriate response is determined on a case-by-case basis. But do try simple communication first.