When someone does something that aggravates us, it's in our nature to ask them why. That can make things better or worse, depending on how you go about it. If you want to avoid sounding passive aggressive, you need to make your curiosity obvious.
Photo by MuseumNext.
Passive aggression is hard to avoid when you're upset or annoyed, but it can really throw fuel on the fire. A simple grievance can turn into an all out feud. Peter Bregman at Harvard Business Review suggests you ask them a question regarding their behaviour, but show genuine interest in their reasoning:
The key is to really be curious (otherwise the question itself may be a passive aggressive move). Your curiosity might be the only move you need to make. If you hear a legitimate reason behind a person's offensive behaviour, your anger may simply dissipate. And, if they have no reason, they may simply shift their own behaviour.
If you show that you're honestly interested in hearing their side of the story, that may open things up for a constructive conversation. You still may not like their reasoning for their actions, but avoiding passive aggression makes it a lot easier to pursue some kind of compromise.
3 Ways to Stop Yourself from Being Passive-Aggressive [Harvard Business Review]