The 6 Most Passive Aggressive Phrases You Can Use in an Email

Business communication is typically categorized by formal language and professional discussion, but we’re all human, and sometimes our frustrations spill over into our correspondence. Of course, the dictates of professionalism don’t allow us to just say what’s on our mind, so instead, most people resort to the use of a few polite phrases to cushion the blow. 

GetResponse recently ran a survey asking which phrases are most passive aggressive in the business world and the results are probably familiar and amusing to you. According to professionals across the US, if you are using any of these phrases, your contact will feel your frustration across cyberspace! So use with caution.

1. “According to my records…”

Loosely translated, this phrase means “you’re asking for something new and implying it’s what you always wanted.” Typically you’ll see this phrase when a customer comes back saying they don’t understand why their webpage is blue and white instead of blue and gray… in spite of the fact that blue and gray is exactly what they asked for when you discussed theme colors!

2. “Any updates on this?”

Picture someone shouting “HELLOO” into the abyss. This is the kindest way to remind the client that you are still waiting on something, usually something that should have been delivered ages ago. Which leads directly into the next phrase…

3. “Just a friendly reminder…”

Typically, this is anything but friendly. This is the second step in reminding a client that you are in need of material from them to proceed with their project. When “Any updates on this?” fails, people often up the ante to “friendly reminder.” It’s not friendly, it’s frustrating, and both you and they know it.

4. “As per my last email…”

Ah, the classic “as per my last email.” There’s nothing like getting questions that have been asked and answered in the previous correspondence to get your blood boiling. Maybe you were nice the first time and didn’t mention that you’d already discussed this, but by the third time around, it’s time to refer them to the previous email where you covered this information.

5. “Going forward I’d prefer…”

This phrase doesn’t even really qualify as passive aggressive. It’s very close to flat-out aggressive! This is the kind of thing you say when a situation has been an absolute disaster and while you fix it, you want to remind the person to never ever do that again.

6. “Please let me know if I’ve misunderstood.”

Typically, you see this phrase when it’s a moment you need to lay down the law with a client. They may be asking for something completely out of scope or making demands of you that go against every bit of professional experience you’ve got. This can often call attention to requests that distract from the main goals the client has outlined. 

Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind that every single email you send goes to a real person on the other end of the line. We all get frustrated and overwhelmed, of course. All of us are human! But these particular phrases are well known to be expressions of displeasure and passive aggression, and it’s best to avoid them if at all possible. The best way to respond? Take a moment, rise above, and construct a response that diffuses the situation, rather than fight fire with fire.