understanding a petty person

Petty behaviour is when someone’s actions and their attitude are spiteful and instead of focusing on the big picture they major in minor things. When you think of a petty person, think of a small minded person who holds grudges against you, overreacts, and may act in a passive aggressive manner.

Wendy was starting to get tired of Anna’s petty and small-minded behaviour after putting up with it for five years. Anna was always gossiping about others and making snide comments about people behind their backs. Wendy had tried to ignore it, but she was starting to get fed up.

Anna was always complaining about their group of friends and how they didn’t do enough when they volunteered. She would often criticize others and make them feel guilty for not doing more. It was starting to wear on the group, and Wendy could sense that others were becoming frustrated with Anna’s behaviour.

Psychological Aspects

Petty behaviour can stem from several psychological factors including: jealousy, low self esteem, wanting to control everything and  the need to be right. Petty people may see themselves as the victim in a situation, and  they may feel threatened by others, however, they lack the social skills to address the issue that they are upset about in an adult manner.


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Social Implications

Petty people can negatively affect the people around them and create a toxic environment at work or in a friend group. Many petty people are unaware of how their actions affect those around them, and they demonstrate a lack of empathy every time they try to control a situation. You can develop strategies to help you cope with being around a petty person.

Have you ever had a friend show up and change the entire dynamic of a get together? Jenny invited Camilla out after work with her team. Camilla made snide comments towards a lovely new girl, who after the third insult became very quiet for the rest of the evening. Jenny couldn’t figure out what exactly had happened but she knew that there was a definite shift in the dynamic once Camilla joined the group.

Characteristics of a Petty Person

Petty people have many negative personality traits that make it challenging to be around them for long periods of time. Here are a few typical traits of a petty individual:


The underlying issue is that petty people feel insecure, and they like to feel superior to others, which makes them feel good about themselves. They may one up others to feel superior and play down other people’s accomplishments.

characteristics of a petty person

Often petty people can’t take any feedback or criticism, and if you suggest a change they may become overly defensive and consider it a personal attack against them. 

Petty people have a lack of empathy towards others

Often petty people don’t consider other people’s feelings and only see things from their point of view. They may try to guilt trip people close to them in order to get their own way. Often their requests can be completely unreasonable, but in their mind, they are right, end of story.

Carys’ mother wanted to come and stay with her for a couple of days. When Carys said they no longer had a spare bed available, her mother became snippy with her. Carys offered her free accommodation at a friend’s guest house nearby, she also offered to give up her own bed and sleep in the living room but it wasn’t good enough for her mother.

Her mother came to town, stayed with her brother, and didn’t invite her to any of the family get-togethers. Her mom’s petty ways got in the way of what could have been a pleasant family get together.

May be an attention seeker

Petty people may talk about themselves and their accomplishments in front of others because they crave attention.  They have a need to feel important and may make something sound bigger than it really is to impress those around them.

Dealing with a pretty person can be exhausting and may cause unnecessary stress and drama in a relationship. When you are focused on petty issues it brings up conflict over things most people would ignore.

Impact of petty behaviour

Petty behavior can take a toll on personal relationships and negatively impact a workplace environment. Understanding the effect of this behavior can help you take steps to address it and try to turn the situation around quickly.

Personal relationships

People who have to deal with petty people can become resentful and fed up. People may choose to walk away from a friendship with a petty person, but with family members, it is more challenging to deal with. 

Common signs of  petty behavior in relationships:

  • Continually criticize people 
  • Hold a  grudge about something minor
  • Make rude, sarcastic, and snippy remarks
  • Will not compromise in any way
  • Act in a passive aggressive manner
impact of petty behavior

Take a look at your personal relationships and see if you have anyone who demonstrates these kinds of behaviors. You may want to bring up your concerns or distance yourself if you do not value the relationship.  

Pettiness at work

Petty behavior at work can be incredibly toxic and cause stress for coworkers. Here are some things to watch out for at work:

  • Spreading rumors about coworkers
  • Taking credit for projects at work, even when they had a very small role
  • Refuses to be a team player and help coworker’s projects 
  • Creating unnecessary petty arguments
  • Sabotaging other people’s projects and relationships at work  

Karen, a manager at an insurance company, was known as the queen of the gotcha, always looking to sabotage someone else’s work. Her entire team quit and a few went on stress leave. If that isn’t a sign of a problem environment, I am not sure what is!

If you see these behaviors in a coworker, you might want to bring them up with your supervisor or talk to the employee about possible solutions going forward.

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Dealing with a petty person

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Petty people can be incredibly frustrating to deal with and you may feel like retaliating, but don’t stoop to their level. Here are a few of our favorite tips on how to deal with the petty people in your life.

Setting boundaries

You need to boundary up when dealing with a petty person and let them know what you consider to be unacceptable behavior. Calmly let the person know when they have done something inappropriate or crossed the line. You might say, “I don’t appreciate the snippy comments about the job I did on the last project. If you have something to say to me, let’s have a one on one meeting on what you think that we could have done differently.”

Effective communication

dealing with a petty person

Try not to get defensive when you are dealing with a petty person. Listen to what they have to say and try to find common ground. Be prepared with something to say like, “ We may have different opinions about the project, but let’s focus on working together in a respectful manner.”

The Role of counselling and self care

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If you are feeling overwhelmed dealing with a petty person, it can be helpful to talk to a professional. 

Better Help is a great resource where you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of their own home. Dealing with a petty person can really take a toll and talking to someone about it will provide clarity.

If you have to deal with a petty person it will most likely be challenging, but by setting appropriate boundaries, seeking professional help, and handling it in a mature way you can navigate the situation.

What is a petty person?

Got any comments, questions or tips about dealing with a petty person? Share them in the comments below.

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