Michael J. Stevens has a great article, “Passive-aggression Among the Latter-day Saints,” in the current Sunstone issue. Stevens, a professor of management and business administration at Weber State University, has used a survey which shows a person’s preferred way of resolving conflict with his college students in the Midwest, in Texas, and in Utah. He found that Mormon students raised along the Wasatch Front choose avoidance as their preferred style of conflict resolution. Their score for avoidance was more than two standard deviations higher than those of his students from other regions. Avoidance was the least popular choice for students from other areas:
Avoidance of conflict falls into the label of passive-aggressiveness. I’ve not been offended when a few associates have given me that label. I figure it’s better to avoid unpleasant people and situations than to waste energy in fights I’m not going to win. However, Stevens points out that passive-aggressiveness has a darker side. It can also manifest as contempt. He lists other negatives:
. . . hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.
Stevens attributes the high incidence of passive-aggressive conflict resolution to three things in Mormon culture: equating disagreement with contention, emphasis on obedience, and extreme deference to Church leaders.
Stevens’ study raises some interesting questions about how passive-aggressiveness affects Mormon life. Does it create harmony within families—or does it create tension from living with unresolved problems? How does avoidance of conflict influence Utah culture? Is Utah a more pleasant, peaceful place than the rest of the country—or do negatives such as resistance to change, relying on authority, and contempt for other points of view prevail?