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September 28, 2023

Ten Phrases You Should Be Using in Emails to Convey Maximum Passive-Aggressiveness and Unprofessionalism

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Been a while since we tackled the topic of communication, actually it was about a year ago in a post I wrote that definitely wasn’t directed at my former colleague who would always put “hey” in Slack before getting around to typing out the rest of what he had to say eventually.

I’m not exactly sure how I came across but I did and “10 Unprofessional Email Phrases That Are Ruining Your Reputation at Work” sounded like it could be interesting to someone overly concerned with their reputation at work.


Many factors contribute to a hostile work environment including, office gossip, sexually- and culturally-offensive behavior and conduct that is NSFW. But to add to that list is another — often overlooked — contributor: the passive-aggressive email. You know, the suggestive ones that say one thing but really mean another?

We’re putting passive-aggressive email sayings on the same list as sexually and culturally offensive behavior? Well OK then.

Without any further delay (my apologies), here are nine unprofessional phrases that are on par with NSFW come-ons to your colleagues along with some brief explanations as written by them:

1. “I’m re-attaching for convenience”

This phrase basically translates to, “I know you ignored it the first time, so I’m going to send it again to hold you accountable for actually opening it.” Unless you’re someone’s boss or manager, you probably shouldn’t convey this passive-aggression in writing.

2. “My apologies for the delay”

If you write this in an email, you might as well say, “Hey, I’m sorry I’m late. I was busy prioritizing other tasks.”

3. “As per my last email”

Bets are you’ve probably used this line before — I know I have. But what you’re really saying when you plug this into your email is, “This is the second time I’m telling you this. I don’t want to have to tell you again.”

4. “Does Wednesday still work as a deadline? No worries if it doesn’t!”

This phrase sounds friendly, right? But the problem is it’s too friendly.

5. “I feel like”

“I feel like” is a filler phrase. It pads your thoughts with uncertainty and allows receivers to negotiate them.

6. “Just a heads up, I won’t be coming in tomorrow”

Whether you have unlimited PTO or a set amount of sick days, it’s best not to call off exclusively via email if you can help it. Not only is it unprofessional to plug the mention in an un-related email, but it’s also inconsiderate to your manager and team who may need to follow-up with you in the following days or will have to take over your time-sensitive responsibilities.

7. “I’m not in charge of that”

Nothing tells your manager you’re uninvested in your team louder than this classic “That’s not my job” plug-in. Even if you’re “not in charge of that,” you shouldn’t throw the person who is under the bus in front of your team.

8. “Here’s a copy of the project my team and I are working on. I’d love to get your feedback!”

To put it plainly, you never want to share teamwork with other members of the company without your team’s permission.

9. “Great work! Next time, you should”

This phrase, though positive, is a pretty back-handed compliment. You’re basically telling recipients, “This is great — except for X, Y and Z — so actually, this is just good.”

And my personal favorite is number ten:

“I can’t stand this place”

Maybe you can’t stand your job, or your coworkers, or your company — but that’s nothing to mention in a professional piece of writing. Statements such as this one can get in front of the wrong eyes, or easily be forwarded to leadership without your knowing. Air out your dirty laundry outside of the office through words, not in any way that can be directed back to you. And even better, you can escalate your concerns to leadership to get clear about what’s not working for you and find solutions to address them.

Air your dirty laundry on Reddit like a normal person.

A lot of the items on the list are in the category of unnecessary phrases that people, especially women, add to communications without even realizing they’re doing it (See: How to Get Ahead: Sorry Not Sorry). Not exactly unprofessional, depending on your work environment. Unlike “per my last email” which no person in the history of emails has ever used in the without the intended passive-aggressive subtext. “I’m re-attaching for convenience” is another one that is code for “are you dumb?” which many could argue is far more professional than typing out “are you dumb?” and hitting send.

Did they miss any?

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  1. Oh no, I use “reattaching for convenience” all the time, and I’m not intending to be passive aggressive. Attachments just get lost in the inbox sometimes! Do other people really read this as passive aggressive, and if it is, what’s the alternative?

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