Five Passive-Aggressive Email Habits We’re All Guilty Of


by Anna Brech |
Published on

It's all too easy to unload your office frustrations by firing off an email. When that woman from accounts leaves her muesli all over the side once again, or your colleague won't stop badgering you about a pointless task - well, a quick missive sorts it out, right?

The problem is, emails lack the nuance that helps temper our interactions in real life. So, when we unleash our feelings via an inbox, every little action comes rife with meaning. Things can spiral into a vicious email face-off quicker than you can say, 'Don't open that!'

In the spirit of workplace peace and prosperity, here's five passive-aggressive email habits to avoid forever more:

CC'ing the top dogs

The top dog wasn't bothered... ©Getty

What it looks like:

Hi Carly. Thanks for your email re: new timelines on the Carton account. I understand where you’re coming from with regards to team size and budget, but I’m afraid deadlines are in place for a reason. If your team fails to deliver on-time, the performance of the whole company is called into question. I’m just looping in big boss A, B and C, so we’re all on the same page. You’re welcome to share your thoughts with them. Thanks! Beth

What it means:

Hi Carly screw you and your entitled demands. I want the whole world to see how unreasonable/lazy you are – and to show them I’m working hard to make this work, even if you’re not. Put that in your performance review and smoke it.

Why it’s wrong:

Tacitly getting people “on your side” without directly involving them is awkward for everyone. For the person targeted, it feels like you’re pulling out the big guns – it’s never going to elicit a positive response. As for the troops you've summoned; well, they'll hardly going to give you a prize for clogging up their inbox with petty email spats, are they? Take the high road and have it out in the office kitchen.

Urgent flags

Urgent flags bring instant stress ©Getty

What it looks like:

URGENT: Performance meeting this PM

URGENT: Expenses procedure - pls follow and share

URGENT: Re: Toilets maintenance 2nd floor

URGENT: Has anyone seen my gemstone keyring?

What it means:

The equivalent of a baby banging its fists against the table and screaming. Attention, moi!

Why it’s wrong:

The most loaded weapon in the email lexicon, flagging up your emails as URGENT in the subject line is plain obnoxious. The same goes for red flags. By using them, you're implying your subject is as important to everyone else as it is to you (doubtful) and you're stress-loading; you're allowing a little bit of your own personal angst to trickle down to everyone else.

It's pointless, too. What are you really expecting people to do; jump up and start frantically swinging their keyboards above their head in empathy with your panic-ridden state? If it's that urgent - say, Tom Hardy is in the building and he's about to leave - simply yell out your message or pick up the phone, old-school style.

Pacifying gestures

Say what you need to say, without the insincere kisses ©Getty

What it looks like:

Hey Hon!

Hope all’s good! Just checking in on that draft copy – sorry to chase, but I needed it by 10am and it’s 10.10 now; any idea on an ETA? Ideally, it’ll be all spell-checked, no typos etc. have got a MILLION things to do before the run-through this PM. Oh, did you see those graphs I sent you? If you can integrate those into P.3 in colour, that would be brilliant. And then print 50 copies on the laser and staple on my desk. Thanks so much, you're amazing! Xxxx

What it means:

Hey hon, where the hell is my frigging copy? Why haven’t you sorted it like you said you would? I can't trust you to do anything! Arggh, I’m so stressed and pissed off, but trying to disguise it under a multitude of exclamation marks and kisses. You are so NOT amazing.

Why it’s wrong

It's understandable to want to sugar coat your demands when you're under pressure. But ultimately, this kind of tempered tone is confusing and far more passive-aggressive than if you merely state what you need. Plus, such a softly-softly approach undermines what you're saying.

Try to avoid reaching for kisses or exclamation marks to smooth things over when the going gets tough. Instead, channel Beyoncé and be a boss, straight up.

Replying all

Just don't ©Getty

What it looks like:

Re: office lunch

(CC: approximately 3,000 company employees)

Hi Paulette

Please can you put me down for an avo and mozzarella bap, but does it have coriander in it at all? If so my allergens might play up, so I’m better on the ham baguette. That’s if it’s organic ham? Also unrelated, but the air con has been stuck on 14 degrees c all morning, any chance maintenance can have a look?



What it means:

I need everyone to know about my dietary requirements, moral values AND office gripes, all rolled into one.

Why it's wrong:

Email clutter is a true toil of our modern age and the worst culprits for it are mind-numbingly boring reply alls.

We'll take a round robin on hipster guinea pigs any day but Baz's exacting sandwich preference for the away day? Not so much.

Only reply all if it's absolutely necessary (and newsflash: it never is).

The lets-clean-up missive

Your quietly furious emails won't solve anything ©Getty

What it looks like:

Hi everyone

I’ve just been into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and it is absolutely DISGUSTING. Someone has spilled porridge all over the side and I don’t know whose egg sandwich that is in the fridge but it’s two weeks out of date and absolutely reeks. The same goes for whoever keeps heating up their mushroom biryani in the microwave: PLEASE STOP. Guys, I know we have busy jobs but we’re all adults here. We can all use a dishwasher. Sorry to moan but you know who you are.


What it means:

Hi everyone clean your s--t up NOW! I’m having a crap day and every single one of you has made it a little bit worse. I hate working with you filthy lot

Why it's wrong:

Messy kitchen habits can be frustrating but this collective ticking off is not the way forward. It makes everyone feel like they're being held back after class and given a detention. The passive part comes in because you're not singling anyone out. Those who make an effort to clean up will feel affronted, while those who don't will understand from your collective bollocking that they have a free pass to carry on clogging up the sink with soggy teabags. And to top it all off, you look bad by playing prefect.

You're better off leaving this kind of palaver to the office manager. Or, if you're feeling military about it, you could install CCTV in the kitchen and pick off your culprits one by one.

Read More: Three Easy-To-Make Email Mistakes That Undermine Your Credibility at Work

Read More: What Your Annoying Office Habits Say About You, According To Science

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