How can I make emails sound less passive-aggressive? This expert explains all

Avoid passive aggressive phrases in email chains, advises expert Heather Scales.
Avoid passive aggressive phrases in email chains, advises expert Heather Scales. Copyright Canva
By Euronews
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In a remote working world, emails have become the norm. However, some common email sign-offs and greetings can come across as passive-aggressive.


If you were to receive an email containing the phrases “just a friendly reminder,” “as per our conversation,” and “please advise,” would you think 'sure, that's a nice professional email' or might you be left feeling a little annoyed?

According to a new study in the United States, those phrases rank in the top ten most passive-aggressive sentences most commonly used in workplace emails.

So, what should we say and what shouldn't we say?

To talk more about it, Euronews Next spoke to Heather Scales, Managing Director at Heartbeat Ltd in London.

Euronews Next:Heather, help us out here. What should we be saying and what should we avoid using in our emails?

Heather Scales: I think what you've got to remember is that emails should be the same as spoken voice. I think what happens is, individuals tend to hide behind emails.

So, if they want to deal with conflict, instead of speaking to the person face to face, they will go into an email and write perhaps, an email that's not necessarily appropriate.

So, I think what we've got to think about the basics. How would we want to talk to individuals and like to be spoken to?

Then what we do is transfer that, translate that onto an email to individuals.

EN:Sometimes we just have to use emails in the workplace, right? It's just an easy way to communicate and there is not necessarily any way of getting around it. And some of these phrases have been used in a way to be faux polite. So, what should we do in that case when we do have to write a difficult email?

HS: Some of these phrases like "make sure," "per our conversation," they act passive-aggressive, which is kind of like, "we've had that conversation before".

So, really think about what you're writing because the recipient might possibly receive it and understand it in a different way.

EN:Working in an international media organisation, a lot of people are using English as a second or third language. For example, quite a few people are actually really surprised to hear that "kind regards" could be considered passive-aggressive. Do you think perhaps that in English there's more attention paid or people feel a little bit more sensitive about language, and some other languages are maybe a little bit more direct?

HS: I think so, yes. I mean, we probably are more sensitive than other nations that are probably much more robust in terms of their communication. You know, for one person “kind regards” would be fine. For another, they might take offence.

People put on emails, "best," "best wishes," "best of luck". We have to think about the audience we're sending the email to.

For the full interview, watch out the video in the media player above for more.

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