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How to Avoid Sounding Passive-Aggressive at Work

When you’re annoyed with a situation at work, your first instinct might be to let the person who annoyed know ASAP. But, while at work, you can’t be openly rude, so you rely on passive-aggressive phrases and messages to get the point across. Do it consistently, and you earn a reputation around the office. Before you get stuck being known as that annoying coworker, check out some of the commonly used phrases in email that can be a bit much, and what you can use instead.

Desiree Sinkevich

Des Sinkevich

Build a solid reputation at work

As you’re working toward a career you enjoy, you’re also building your reputation as an employee, coworker, and person. If you leave an email trail of passive-aggressive notes and demanding messages in your wake, you’ll start to be known as someone to be avoided, even if you never intended the messages the way they’re perceived. Before you get stuck with a reputation as someone people dread talking to, check out some commonly used email phrases that can be taken the wrong way and learn what to do instead. 

3 passive-aggressive email phrases

The Phrase: “Per my last email.”

Why it’s seen as passive-aggressive: When you respond to an email and begin with “per my last email,” you’re basically saying to the reader, “Did you bother to read what I wrote?” Even if you’re only trying to remind them that you sent the information they’re looking for, in text, you’re calling them out for not paying attention. 

Try this instead: It is absolutely frustrating when you need to repeat something you’ve mentioned several times before, but before leaning into that frustration with your reply, take a deep breath. After you’ve cooled down for a minute, the best route to take with your response is to simply repeat the information they’re looking for. If this behavior continues and you constantly need to repeat information to coworkers, you may want to consider discussing the situation with your manager. 

The Phrase: “Please advise.” 

Why it’s seen as passive-aggressive: When you’re writing “please advise,” you may be genuinely asking for advice on the matter. However, the reader can see it as you saying “let me know,” or even passive-aggressively telling them they did something wrong that they not need to find a solution for.  

Try this instead: Say what you mean! “Please advise” is not only viewed as passive-aggressive, it is also generally perceived as overly formal. If you’re looking for advice or want the person you’re emailing to respond with an answer, being straightforward makes a difference. Writing “let me know what you think” or “I appreciate your advice” is clear and is less likely to come across as impolite. 

The Phrase: “Thanks in advance.” 

Why it’s seen as passive-aggressive: How can this be anything but polite? You’ve asked a coworker for help or information and you’re thanking them for providing that, right? Sure, but you’re also assuming they can and will do you this favor before they even say yes. Thanking them in advance, before they even know if they can help you out, can make them feel like you are bossing them around.

Try this instead: Don’t thank them in advance! Just sign off with “thank you” or “let me know.” When and if they can help, obviously thanks are in order. But before then, keep it simple. 

Sharpen your communication skills 

Written and verbal communication skills are often one of the number one skill sets employers are searching for in job candidates. Someone who can write a good email and speak well is off to a great start, but communication doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It can be learned, though. If you’re looking to brush up on your soft skills, including understanding writing polite, and non-passive-aggressive emails, Penn Foster’s online Career Readiness Bootcamp can help. Talk to an Admissions Specialists today at 1.888.427.6500.

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