Have you ever found yourself attempting to decipher a pleasantly written email from a colleague for a hidden meaning? When composing an email, do you consider if the content sounds friendly on the surface, but may actually sound condescending when read between the lines?


If you’ve been in one of these situations, you’re not alone. We here at TollFreeForwarding.com set out to uncover how people across the United States really perceive common phrases in workplace communication, and exactly what phrases make these emails come across as passive aggressive.


Findings from our study reveal the top 10 most passive aggressive email phrases and words that are commonly used in business-related communication.


Top 10 most passive aggressive email phrases


If you often misinterpret instructions for a task, are prone to take your time when replying to colleagues’ emails, or tend to create minor road bumps in projects due to forgetfulness—you might find some of these top 10 passive aggressive phrases in your inbox, ordered from most to least passive aggressive.


  1. “Please advise”

While the most passive aggressive phrase may sound like a cautionary tip, many people inside a workplace consider “please advise” to be a condescending reminder.


  1. “Kind regards”

The email sign-off “kind regards” can come across as cold or ingenuine to some employees, securing a spot as one of the most passive aggressive email phrases—and the only email sign-off to make the list. Instead, try a more authentic sign-off, such as “best wishes,” “all the best,” or a simple, “thank you.”


  1. “Friendly reminder”

As it turns out, some workers find a “friendly reminder” not-so-friendly. You might see this phrase in an email if you’re prone to forgetting important details or deadlines.


  1. “I look forward to hearing from you”

“I look forward to hearing from you?” More like, “I’m waiting on a response, so you better reply soon this time!”


  1. “Pay attention”

If “pay attention to…” pops up in your inbox, it may be worth evaluating how many times you’ve not paid attention to a detail. This phrase sometimes serves as a passive aggressive reminder for those who tend to be forgetful.


  1. “Make sure”

Similar to “pay attention,” the phrase “make sure” can come across as a bit patronizing to some people. Do you need a reminder on how to do your job? Well, you might if this email phrase is sent to you…


  1. “Per our conversation”

This seventh most passive aggressive phrase could really mean, “we’ve just talked about this! Why can’t you remember?”


  1. “Future reference”

The phrase “for future reference…” may be sent to you if you’ve made a mistake, and the sender thinks you could use a reminder to not do it again.


  1. “ccing”

To many employees, the phrase “I’m ccing so-and-so here…” is the equivalent of a calling your mother when you’re misbehaving.


  1. “Going forward”

“Going forward?” More like, “Here’s how to not mess this up again…”


Additional passive aggressive phrases in workplace emails that did not make the top 10 cut include, “I would like to follow up on my previous email” and “per my previous email.” If you take too long to reply to an email, or if you ask a question when the answer is clearly located in a previous email, you might expect to see these phrases in your inbox.


Alternatives to common passive aggressive phrases


It’s worth noting that while these words and phrases are deemed the most passive aggressive language in emails, they are also regularly used as traditional and professional workplace jargon. So, before you scramble through your inbox for any presence of these phrases, keep in mind that the sender may not be ill-intentioned when using them.


However, emails that are clearly hostile do have the ability to hurt or confuse the recipient, which can have a detrimental effect. Repetitively sending or receiving cold, passive aggressive emails can impact the productivity, morale, and atmosphere of a workplace or business.


Susan Room, a professional voice and executive coach, says passive-aggressive behavior is indirectly expressing negative feelings rather than addressing them openly, and assumptions, fear of failure, conflict-aversion and poor anger management are just some of the reasons people wage their personal vendettas via email.


“Honing your words may encourage others to do the same. If not, and a colleague repeatedly uses passive-aggressive language with you, don’t retaliate, instead lead by example. Vent your negative feelings privately, offline. Record yourself saying them then listen back. Nine times out of ten you’ll be glad you didn’t press send,” said Susan Room.




How to manage passive aggressive emails


We send and receive over 306 billion emails every day. That’s because emailing is a quick, easy and efficient way to communicate—but it’s not always the best way. In fact, it can be the worst, especially if you have negative feelings about the recipient.


Susan Room says when that happens, it’s best to pick up the phone or meet to talk instead.


“Once calm, talk with (not at or to) your colleague, using a warm, direct tone of voice. Offer specific examples of what they say and how it impacts you, remembering this is your opinion; others may disagree. Ask if they see your point of view. If they don’t, explain more and empathize. We all have blind spots. Ask them what yours are and take what they say on board. These are the ingredients of a win-win conversation,” said Susan Room.


Here are Susan Room’s reasons for talking with colleagues instead of retaliating through email.


  1. When speaking, you can flex your voice to communicate in the clearest, most helpful way. However carefully crafted, your written words may not be received the way you intended.
  2. You’ll likely save time and improve outcomes and productivity because good communication (derived from the Latin word ‘communicare’ to make common or to share) is a two-way process.
  3. When talking with someone, you’re far less likely to tip into passive-aggressive behavior.


“Ultimately, if you feel there’s conflict, stop emailing, talk with people instead. And before you do, as well as preparing what you’re going to say, plan how you will use the superpower that is your voice to say it. What blend of pitch, tone, pace, speed and volume will keep you working constructively together rather than reinforcing the battle lines?” said Room.


As a leading provider in virtual, international telecommunications, we at TollFreeForwarding.com understand the importance of maintaining an enjoyable workplace environment through respectful communication. Visit our blog to learn more about business etiquette and communication differences at work.


If you’re interested in setting up an exceptional communication medium for your business, we offer a wide range of services, including virtual fax and phone numbers, toll free numbers, and business phone numbers. Afterall, passive aggressive behavior is best dealt with by talking on the phone!