9 Passive-Aggressive Email Phrases You Are Probably Using

Annoyed.woman at computerYou might have noticed some of your bosses and colleagues and friends getting somewhat, well, downright testy during this Coronavirus time. No wonder! Huge changes, disruption of business and home life, financial woes, uncertainty about the future, little or no social contact and that stay-at-home confinement we are all getting tired of.

What I noticed is the effect this crazy upside-down time is having on our emails. Yes, our emails. I noticed that more and more, emails are getting somewhat, if not totally, passive-aggressive. Based upon what I recently found out, I am willing to bet $.25 (I never go more than $.25) that all of us have been at least a little PA at some point.

Expressing anger in the office today is taboo and practically a crime. Yet, anger is a natural emotion and is bound to eventually come out somewhere.  More times than we want to have happen, we find plenty of angry emails in our inbox.  According to a 2018 survey by Adobe, there are 9 extremely annoying email phrases all of us have most likely used. Adobe surveyed 1,928 workers asking for their most annoying email phrases.  Truthfully, I was not aware that any of these phrases were considered annoying, let alone passive-aggressive.

While the Adobe survey calls theses phrases, “annoying”, Psychology Today magazine labels them passive-aggressive. To be truthful, I can’t tell you how many emails I have sent over the years containing practically all of these phrases. Who knew?

Over 75% of the respondents said that email was the preferred way to communicate around the office. Most said they spend anywhere from one to two hours to a half day reading and responding to emails.

Top 9 email phrases considered passive-aggressive:

1, Not sure if you saw my last email... Really? Come on. Are you sure you’re not sure? 99% of the time, (not based on any evidence) this is simply a lie. What this actually means is: “I know you saw my last email. I know you ignored it. So, I’m sending it again. I demand a response RIGHT NOW”.

2. Per my last email... Does anyone use the word “per” except to sound superior and official?  Would you use it in a conversation? I doubt it. “Per my last email” roughly translates to “I notice you haven’t responded to my previous email and want to point it out to everyone in this email chain with my legal-sounding speak”.

3. Per our conversation… Similar to the above but with an added twist. “Per our conversation” is used when you’ve had a chat about something contentious or you want to lock something important in and ensure it’s documented just in case, of course, it all goes wrong. It’s generally called a CYA. (If you don’t know what that means, just email me.)

4. Any updates on this?… Here we go with: “I still haven’t heard from you about this important matter, so I’m going to chase you down until you give me what I want”.

5. Sorry for the double email … Here’s the classic: “sorry but not really sorry” mentality. This phrase can mean either “I’m going to send you two similar emails to really hit hard that I need a response”, or “I was so busy writing a tome in my first email that I neglected to add additional information”.

6. Please advise…. This is the epitome of passive-aggression. “Please advise” is usually shorthand for “I’ve done my part, now you do yours”.

7. As previously stated... Wait, wait! Maybe this phrase is the core of passive-aggression. Why not write: “I’m having to repeat myself because it’s obvious you are ignoring me”.

8. As discussed... This phrase loosely translates to “I’m putting our conversation in writing so you can’t misinterpret what’s expected of you. Be sure to get this right.”

9. Re-attaching for convenience… I rarely see this. However, it is a nice way of saying: “I’m reattaching a file you say that you never received (when I know you did) because it’s easier than having to sort through my sent emails to prove that I did, indeed, send it.”

Interestingly, the phrases “Per my last email” and “Per our conversation” came in second and third in the survey with "Not sure you saw my email" as number one.

Do not send an email starting like this:

Whether you’re speaking with your supervisor or contacting a client, 37% of respondents said starting an email with “To whom it may concern”as a terrible greeting. “Hey” (28%) and the corny “Happy [insert day]!” also ranking poorly.

The most annoying email cliches are:

    1. Just looping in… 37%
    2. As per my last email…33%
    3. Just checking in…19%
    4. Confirming receipt…16%
    5. Thanks in advance…7%
    6. Hope you’re well…6%  No, you don’t! Frankly, you are probably just trying to sound polite or have no original ideas for another opener.

The style you use can also be annoying:

  1. Using capital letters for whole words or sentences – 67%
  2. Using kisses or ‘x’ – 65%
  3. CC’ing people who don’t need to be involved – 63%
  4. Using slang, eg ‘OMG’ – 53%
  5. Using too many exclamation marks – 52%
  6. Sending an email without proofreading – 50%
  7. Sending very long emails – 29%
  8. Using emojis – 29%
  9. Not having an email signature – 23%
  10. Double emailing – 22%
  11. Using smiley faces – 22%
  12. Using colored fonts – 21%

Another recent study found that keeping emails on the pithy side can go a long way. Emails with a subject line containing just one word were found to be 87% more likely to receive a response.  It was also found that emails 50 words or less boosted reply rates by more than 40%.

What does work:

More than half of the respondents said receiving no greeting (53%) was absolutely the worst for a work email. Starting an email with a greeting such as “Hi” was received the most positively by respondents with nearly half agreeing it was the perfect greeting. “Kind regards” was found to be the best way to sign-off (69%). “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” also ranked highly as nice ways to address recipients.

A much better way to communicate:

All cattiness aside, each of these phrases have something in common: a need to get information quickly. Almost everyone finds these email expressions annoying, boring or trite, yet most of us frequently use them. This suggests that something needs to change to make information sharing more pleasant and responses more plentiful.

According to Psychology Today, here are three steps to handle passive-aggressive emails:

Step 1: Know what you are dealing with.

See beyond sugarcoated phrasing and recognize hostility. When you see the patterned wording as cited in the Adobe study (e.g., “As previously stated” or “Please advise”), red flags should go up and you need to ask yourself if the sender is harboring some hidden anger.

Step 2: Refuse to engage.

Resist urges to mirror the sender’s hostility. Any time covertly hostile email is responded to with overt hostility, the passive-aggressive person succeeds. Rather than mirroring passive-aggressive behavior and increasing the overall hostility, defuse the hostility with emotionally neutral, bland responses. For example:

Passive-aggressive phrase: “Not sure if you saw my last email...” Siphon off hostility by starting with, “Thanks for the reminder”.

Passive-aggressive phrase: “Re-attaching for your convenience...” “I appreciate that you re-sent the document.”

Passive-aggressive phrase: “As previously stated...” Don’t take the bait. A simple, “Thanks for the recap” will go a long way in keeping a friendly working relationship and rises above someone else’s covert anger.

Passive-aggressive phrase: “Any updates on this?” Offer a polite response such as, “I don’t have any updates yet,” or even better, “I don’t have any updates at this time but I will email you as soon as I do.”

Passive-aggressive phrase: “Please advise.” Offer the advice they are seeking. For example, “Yes, please proceed with your idea,” or “We have decided to move in a slightly different direction. Please hold off on making any decisions.”

Step 3: Acknowledge the anger.

If you feel like a co-worker is chronically hostile and consistently using passive-aggressive communication, respectfully acknowledge their anger. For example, “It sounds like you may be feeling angry,” or, “From your email, I’m wondering if you are frustrated about something.” 

Nine times out of ten, passive-aggressive people will automatically deny that they are angry — and that’s OK. Your respectful acknowledgement marks changing dynamics. The passive-aggressive person now knows that you will not run away from resolving conflict. Ultimately, you will suffer less and get better, more productive responses.

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Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.


It's My Birthday and I'll Cry If I Want To.....Staying positive in the age of Coronaville

Faith.Believe in yourselfToday is my birthday. It’s one of those Big-O numbers. It's the kind where AARP tracks you down. I don’t mind, really. I feel more confident than ever – nothing much shakes me up too much anymore.

With things the way they are in this upside- down world, the day has caused me to review my current situation: My business, legal staffing, is the third largest industry to be hit next to hospitality and retail.

Everything was going so well in the first quarter. In fact, it was going to be one of my best years ever. Then, along with the rest of the world, I woke up one morning and poof! It was all gone. Finito. Say bye-bye. No one was hiring. Every firm had a hiring freeze. It looked as though we were absolutely dead in the water.

Let me whine just a bit. This week has been tough. My wonderful husband has been in and out of the ER 6 times plus 2 emergency trips to the doctor in 10 days. It has been a series of Mr. Toad’s Wild Rides in the dead of the night to a hospital an hour away along a pitch- black winding mountain road in the midst of thunder and lightning storms. Not really my idea of fun.  Actually, I am sitting here writing this piece right now in the hospital. He does not have the virus and fortunately, he is going to be fine.

It’s getting tough to stay positive. Let’s not overlook that COVID19 is still raging. It seems like a lot of people have accepted the new normal and have become a tad desensitized to what is going on. With 40+ million people unemployed and many cities still in lock down, you would think it would be foremost on everyone’s mind. However, I notice that people are actually adapting the “new normal” and getting just a tiny bit too comfortable. This has become a way of life. Holy, moly. We want to live life like this? Can we rethink this here?

Then we have global civil unrest. The world is protesting to the injustices that have gone on for hundreds of years.  While it’s good to protest, I wish it were at a healthier time. With thousands and thousands of people in demonstrations, rallies, along with the partying at bars without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, the virus will be going on a long time. That’s not a good thing.

It’s interesting what the virus is bringing out. People I haven’t spoken to in years are calling. Even my cyber stalker is back. She's a paralegal down in Georgia who seems to have forgotten we know who she is. (Thank goodness, this time around there are laws - criminal and civil -  to protect me. Not so, several years ago when she started.) The callers are reaching out. I think that’s because they can’t hug or see anyone and are looking for people who can bring back good memories and better times. In a way, the world is getting closer despite social distancing.

I am examining my life on this Big-O birthday. Los Angeles (where I come from), is the land of the skinny, the beautiful, those who drive the most expensive cars and those who live on the correct side of the boulevard. Since nothing there really applies to me, I thought I could at least improve my appearance. I am now, after all, a woman of a certain age.

There’s this permaderma-something-or-another product I saw on TV that you rub on your face and in 10 minutes, all your wrinkles and deep lines disappear. Oh, wow! Now, we’re talkin’. For $19.95,  I can compete with L.A’s beautiful people! It does have one teeny, tiny caveat.  It wears off after 10 hours. I can just see myself having a gourmet dinner in L.A,'s most trendy restaurant with important potential clients. The 10 hours are up and the perma stuff starts slowly wearing off me in front of god and everyone. Drip, drip, right onto my collar. There I am, aging 10 years before the very people I am inaptly trying to impress - rapidly changing from a middle-aged beauty to an old lady. Somehow,  I don’t think I would get the account.

Staying in the framework of positivity, pandemic or not, I decided I was not going to go through the horrible down time that most of us did in the Great Recession. No siree! This time, I had a Plan B. I reasoned that pretty soon, all the people who got the virus are going to get angry. Very, very angry. They will start to sue. Who will they sue? Doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, employers who made them come to the office, products liability for faulty ventilators, institutions they believe gave them the virus, toxic tort, mass tort, class actions and more.  What will law firms and insurance companies need? Medical records summarized, of course. So, I opened up MediSums, medical records summarizing. Bullseye! I now have a team of 26 doctors who can summarize up to 16,000 pages per day. There is absolutely no way I am going to go down like in 2009. Not going to happen.

Then I started branching out in legal staffing. I landed a great client in Bahrain. Yes, that Bahrain over in the Middle East. They are seeking a corporate lawyer along with a litigation lawyer from a major law firm with excellent schools and major firm background. OK, so I had to drop the fee a little bit. However, I can now say I’ve gone international. Always push and keep that career advancing! That's what I always say.

Then, I realized that there are hot areas the Corona virus has brought to the forefront. Those are: trust & estates planning (people are getting their affairs in order, just in case); divorce (after sheltering in, people are deciding they didn’t sign up for this); med/mal; workers comp; employment litigation; personal injury; mass tort; bankruptcy (yes, that area is going to be very, very busy); products liability; BigPharma; corporate restructuring and others. I segmented these specialties and went after those areas. Suddenly, I was no longer dead in the water. Right now, we are so busy, I may have to put on another recruiter.

What am I trying to say? The best thing you can do in very disturbing times is to stay positive and ride the horse in the direction it is going. Those ole adages: make lemonade out of lemons, put your mask on first before you help others and a zillion other trite adages, suddenly apply.

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us in ways we could never have predicted just a few months ago, from unprecedented amounts of family time to homeschooling to working remotely — or not working at all. These sudden, rapid changes in the way we live, coupled with uncertainty, can feel overwhelming. While we may know that it’s usually helpful for everyone in your inner circle to stay positive, it’s sometimes easier said than done.

Here are some things to remember:

  • It will not be this way forever. This is a difficult time, but it is just that — a time.
  • Recognize what you are doing well. It may be tough right now, but you have managed some things very well. Think about the physical, logistical, mental and emotional struggles you may have encountered in the last few months and the good — even great — way you approached and handled those challenges. Yay you!

  • Remind yourself of what is good in your life. Some circumstances right now may be hard to change or may contribute to your feeling helpless. But there are other things in your life that are good and inspire gratitude. Making a list of the good things that you appreciate — large or small — can help shift your focus in a positive direction.

  • Start your day with a positivity routine. Don’t immediately check the news as soon as you wake up. It’s too depressing. Take a few minutes to find yourself – and smile. You’d be surprised at how incredibly powerful a morning smile can be in helping you start your day on a positive note.

  • Incorporate humor and laughter into your day.
    This is one of the most important steps to take in improving your positivity and benefiting from a more optimistic disposition. Numerous studies have confirmed short-term and long-term benefits of laughter on the human body and mind. Whenever we start to get a bit frumpy, my husband and I reach for the AutoCorrect bloopers. Laugh? OMG…..
  • Walk away from distressful conversations and situations. In today’s highly stressful pandemic environment, it is easy to get pulled into negative interactions and exchanges that can leave us feeling distressed, frightened, insecure and pessimistic. Recognizing these encounters early on and removing ourselves from these situations can help us manage stress and contribute to our positivity.

  • Have faith. I’m not talking about religious faith here. I’m talking about having faith in humanity; science; technology; our health care heroes; the good in people; our resilience; perseverance; in our ability to overcome even the most outrageous of obstacles. Believe strongly in our future; in life after Coronaville and everything we will have learned after all of this is done. Life is always changing. With each birthday, you can look back and see from where you came.

In times of constant negative messaging, you need an antidote so that you can keep your positive attitude and march forward with determination and hope. Be deliberate in activities that are positive, heartwarming, stress reducing and laughter producing! Together, we’ll get through this. I guarantee it.

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Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.