How to Avoid Writing Passive Aggressive Emails

Posted on October 24, 2016

I hate negative email chains. It’s one thing to get a rejection email. It’s another thing to get an email from someone that just makes you want to throw up after reading it and gives you a stomachache all day long. So why do we continue to battle it out via email? Here are a few helpful ways to soften up your emails and make sure they don’t come across as passive aggressive:

  1. Start Your Email With a Friendly Greeting. Before you get down to business add a buffer line, “Hope you are well”, “Hope you had a nice weekend”, “Great to connect”. Something that softens the email up before you get into the context of what you are about to say.
  2. If You Have Several Issues to Address, Use Bullet Points. If you have several items to address in your email try using bullet points to organize the contents of the email and make it easier to follow. Sometimes this comes across better than a long-winded set of paragraphs.
  3. Lead with Action Over Complaints. For example, if you are writing to someone who didn’t send in a signed contract on time and you are frustrated about it – instead of leading with your frustration lead with something like, “I attached another version of the contracts, please sign ASAP”.
  4. Use Your “Pleases” and “Thank Yous”. When you start a sentence with the word please it’s just a softer lead-in. Even if you are stating something that might not go over well, it’s harder to argue with if you are at least attempting to be polite.
  5. Go Above and Beyond. If you are trying to explain something via email – go above and beyond to get your point across. Include attached directions, PDFs, or screenshots to better explain your point. This way you’ll come across as trying to be helpful.
  6. Be Complimentary When Possible. If you are making a complaint or presenting an issue, try to follow it up with a compliment of some sort. Again, it’s harder to be upset after reading a balanced email rather than an email filled with complaints.
  7. Read Before Sending. Read your email out loud before sending. Emailing can be like texting and the tone can come across really harsh if you aren’t careful. Try to soften it up if possible. You want people to pay attention to the contents of the email not feel terrible after reading it.
  8. Make Sure Nothing Can Come Back to Bite You. Emails don’t go away. Whatever you put in writing will stay with you forever. Unless you own your company, you don’t own the contents of your work emails. If you are hesitant to send, I’d suggest picking up the phone instead. Remember, emails can easily be forwarded to anyone. Make sure it won’t come back to bite you!
  9. If There is a Real Problem, Pick Up The Phone. Everyone has read a passive aggressive email and felt like they want to vomit afterward. One bad email can really taunt you for an entire day. If you really have some words to exchange with someone and they aren’t the most positive – try picking up the phone instead of going back and forth via email. I promise, you’ll feel better afterwards.

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