Passive aggressive behaviour and the link to psychological safety, which is the ‘enabler’ of a healthy and prosperous workplace, is being embraced fully by Glasgow-based business founder and Managing Director, Angela Prentner-Smith of This is Milk.

The agency which employs 11 staff and has a number of international clients has launched a Psychological Safety Indexing service.

What is psychological safety?

First explored by scholars in the 1960s, psychological safety is re-emerging as a hot topic and the language we use and how we use it is also something businesses should be mindful of.

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. This means an absence of interpersonal fear. When psychological safety is present, people can speak up with work-relevant content.

Are we unknowingly being passive aggressive?

One major consideration with psychological safety is the language we use. Whether unintended or not, passive aggressive language can contribute negatively to workplace culture and erode psychological safety within a team.

Caroline Goyder, author, course creator and coach says:

Passive aggressive communication often masks what is going on inside the person doing it and all their feelings of fear and anxiety. In their heads is a big, booming voice telling them they must stay in control, that they must be dominant. That’s because they’re frightened, petrified of someone finding them out. So they try to hide their terror. They interrupt, they don’t listen and above all they don’t take responsibility. Everyone else is the problem. It’s never their fault. They try to frighten people into submission.

Caroline Goyder, author, course creator and coach

As part of their commitment to highlighting the benefits of psychological safety, This is Milk took to the streets of Glasgow to find out if people know what psychological safety means.

Which phrases at work might be deemed passive aggressive?

According to This is Milk’s findings, here are the top 10 most commonly used passive aggressive phrases used in the workplace:

  • Please advise
  • Noted
  • Kind regards
  • Friendly reminder
  • Will do
  • Thanks in advance
  • Per our last conversation
  • Circling back
  • As per our last email
  • As promised

Psychological Safety Indexing has already been warmly received by several This is Milk’s clients in Scotland. Managing directer, Angela Prentner-Smith comments upon the research:

Research findings back up what we already know from our work on with clients. Passive aggressive behaviour is so incredibly damaging and is one of the main reasons an organisation isn’t thriving. This type of communication whether verbal, body language or in emails leads to feelings of stress, isolation, a lack of communication which reduces productivity, positivity and ultimately will destroy and workplace culture if not tackled.

The demonstrable benefits of a safe working space are felt on many levels including greater staff retention and engagement, and an improvement in productivity that increases innovation and creativity.” What’s more, “repeated failures decrease, which invariably results in an increase in profit.

Angela Prentner-Smith, managing director

For more information on the transformative power of psychological safety, visit

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.