6 Common Email Phrases That Could Be Misinterpreted

By Chelsea Babin

Email is one of those unavoidable work realities that no one really loves. However, letting your dislike for emails trickle turn into sending passive aggressive phrases may not be the best bet for your career in the long haul. But some people do it anyways. Want to keep a look out for those sneaky phrases? Here are 10 common email phrases that could be misinterpreted as passive aggressive.

1. “I hope you don’t mind…” – If this phrase comes right before someone tells you that they’ve done something without asking for your opinion or permission first when they really should have, this may be a major red flag. It’s much easier to own up to mistakes over email but it’s a bit cowardly and may show a lack of respect for your input.

2. “I don’t mean to be a pest…” – Unless you’ve recently dropped the ball on a deadline, this phrase is more than likely a passive aggressive way of telling you that they’d like you to prioritize what they need over the rest of your work. While sometimes well meaning, this phrase is best avoided unless it’s used by a boss, project manager, or coworker who is waiting on a specific piece of a project to be finished before they can start their work.

3. “All the best” – Unlike “take care”, “best”, or “sincerely”, this phrase often indicates that whoever sent it doesn’t intend on speaking to you again. It’s a passive aggressive way to cut off communication and, if it gets sent your way, don’t expect to hear from that contact again.

4. “FYI” – In certain contexts this abbreviation is harmless shorthand. In others, like when it’s accompanying a forwarded message you may not be so happy about, it’s one of those pesky passive aggressive phrases that pops up more often than you’d think. If someone sends you an FYI before they forward you bad news or harsh critiques that contact may not have your best interests in mind.

5. “Looking forward to” – While this phrase is less negative than some other passive aggressive email standards, it does indicate a set of expectations and that your coworker is creating a record of those expectations. If you’re someone who frequently forgets projects or misses deadlines it may be a passive aggressive way of shifting the blame away from them when the time comes. Just make sure you know that this phrase often means there’s something you need to do and whoever sent it to you will remember if you don’t follow through.

6. “Let me clarify” – Again, this phrase can be used in a passive aggressive way or it could be used to simply attempt to clear up a miscommunication on their part from a previous email. Unfortunately, due to differing writing styles and the swift pace at which they’re sent, emailing a message to someone is often less clear than speaking over the phone or in person. While “let me clarify” could mean “you read what I wrote wrong, dumby” it could also mean “sorry, I actually meant to say this”.

Being passive aggressive in emails isn’t very professional and yet so many people do it through standard email phrases. Then again, many of these 6 phrases have become so ubiquitous that you need to rely on context to really understand the writer’s meaning. Try your best to avoid this passive aggression in your future emails and keep an eye out for it when someone sends an email your way. It will give you a lot of insight on the state of your work relationships and show you which areas you can improve upon.