Many factors contribute to a hostile work environment including, office gossip, sexually- and culturally-offensive behavior and conduct that is NSFW. But to add to that list is another — often overlooked — contributor: the passive-aggressive email. You know, the suggestive ones that say one thing but really mean another?
If you want to be seen as professional as work, then you're going to want to avoid using these 10 email phrases. We've even listed some alternatives for each!
10 unprofessional email phrases
1. "I'm re-attaching for convenience"
This phrase basically translates to, "I know you ignored it the first time, so I'm going to send it again to hold you accountable for actually opening it." Unless you're someone's boss or manager, you probably shouldn't convey this passive-aggression in writing. And even if you are, a simple "I can send it again if you'd like" would be a more sensible response.
If the goal is to get recipients to open a document, then a better way to say this is, "Did you have a chance to look at the attachment?" This alternative reminds recipients to open the attachment and moves the conversation forward with a response.
2. "My apologies for the delay"
If you write this in an email, you might as well say, "Hey, I'm sorry I'm late. I was busy prioritizing other tasks. Here's that thing you've been waiting for." While you should take responsibility for your lateness, a professional apology is better received in a face-to-face exchange or through changed behavior.
If you find yourself in this situation, try adding this to your email: "I realize that to successfully carry out projects such as this, timely participation is required from all parties. You can expect my response to come sooner in the future."
3. "As per my last email"
Bets are you've probably used this line before — I know I have. But what you're really saying when you plug this into your email is, "This is the second time I'm telling you this. I don't want to have to tell you again." And let's be honest here — it sounds kind of snooty, too.
Instead of referring to your last email passive-aggressively, just say whatever needs to be said a second time to save everyone the archival search.
4. "Does Wednesday still work as a deadline? No worries if it doesn't!"
This phrase sounds friendly, right? But the problem is it's too friendly. You're basically communicating one of two things in your email: "You haven't confirmed a deadline with me so I'll need to figure this out on my own if you don't respond" or "You've already confirmed this deadline with me, but I don't trust that you'll have it in time, so let me know if I should just do this myself."
There's no point in taking responsibility for a task that isn't yours, and no reason to stall a project because of your passivity. A better — and simpler — way to say this is, "I look forward to reconnecting on Wednesday!"
5. "I feel like"
"I feel like" is a filler phrase. It pads your thoughts with uncertainty and allows receivers to negotiate them. Take, for example, the difference between, "I feel like we should wait until next week to decide" in comparison to "Let's wait until next week to decide." The former opens up the floor for feelings while the latter confidently pushes the conversation forward. The second phrase invites less pushback or a more constructive alternative than the suggestion.
6. "Just a heads up, I won't be coming in tomorrow"
Whether you have unlimited PTO or a set amount of sick days, it's best not to call off exclusively via email if you can help it. Not only is it unprofessional to plug the mention in an un-related email, but it's also inconsiderate to your manager and team who may need to follow-up with you in the following days or will have to take over your time-sensitive responsibilities.
Make the ask in person, as soon as you know need to take off, or compose a new email requesting the day off to your manager.
7. "I'm not in charge of that"
Nothing tells your manager you're uninvested in your team louder than this classic "That's not my job" plug-in. Even if you're "not in charge of that," you shouldn't throw the person who is under the bus in front of your team. Also, this email phrase is only used when a job that needs to get done hasn't been so a better way to say this is, "I can't speak to that, as I wasn't assigned to the project, but maybe X can!"
8. "Here's a copy of the project my team and I are working on. I'd love to get your feedback!"
To put it plainly, you never want to share teamwork with other members of the company without your team's permission. Some documents may contain confidential or incomplete information, and shouldn't be seen by anyone who isn't assigned to working on it. What you should do if you're interested in cross-functional collaboration is talk to your team about who's insight will help improve the project, then make a group agreement to send.
9. "Great work! Next time, you should"
This phrase, though positive, is a pretty back-handed compliment. You're basically telling recipients, "This is great — except for X, Y and Z — so actually, this is just good." It's better to share with email recipients what was effective about their work and what could be improved for future projects. Here's an example: "What a wonderful proposal! Your tone came across as friendly and assertive, and I found your calls to action especially effective because they made me want to click. Toward the end, you mention X, Y, Z and I was a little unclear about what you meant. Is there any way we can be more specific?"
In this example, the email sender is outlining the "great" parts about the proposal and letting them know what worked about them. They also use "I" statements (so as not to point a finger at the writer, but the reader) to demonstrate their confusion about a particular section. Then, they end with a question that gives the receiver a clear next step.
10. "I can't stand this place"
Maybe you can't stand your job, or your coworkers, or your company — but that's nothing to mention in a professional piece of writing. Statements such as this one can get in front of the wrong eyes, or easily be forwarded to leadership without your knowing. Air out your dirty laundry outside of the office through words, not in any way that can be directed back to you. And even better, you can escalate your concerns to leadership to get clear about what's not working for you and find solutions to address them.
How do you respond to an unprofessional email?
If you're on the receiving end of any one of these phrases, the best way to respond is with professionalism — this means leaving your assumptions and emotions out of it. Respond simply by sticking to the facts and/or asking the sender for more information in applicable cases.
How do you write a passive-aggressive email?
You don't! Passive-aggression has no place in the workplace. To send an assertive email that kindly and effectively communicates your point, make a clear ask, set clear deadlines or offer to follow-up with your coworker in person.
What is a professional clap-back?
Passive aggression creates hostility which can be sensed by the receiver. This leaves room for a "professional clap-back" — that is, an even more cheeky response to a critical statement. An example of that looks like the following:
Passive-aggressive sender: "As per my last email, we'd really appreciate it if you could get to those before the end of the week — ideally tomorrow."
Professional clap-backer: "Or, you could send this to the development team as I think this ask would be more appropriate of them to complete."
Notice how the clap-backer basically just said "Now I'm not going to do it," "That's not my job" and implied "I'm done talking about this" in a sarcastic tone. To avoid a professional clap back, which is just as discouraged as a passive-aggressive email, opt for clear and polite language with coworkers and colleagues. Avoiding the 10 phrases above is the best place to start!