Workplace Passive-Aggressive Phrases that Everyone Should Use

If you’ve worked in an office environment, you’ve received an email in a thread that says, “per my last email.” You’ve probably written it as well. It’s a helpful phrase that says very politely, “I’ve already answered this.” But it also clearly conveys the true meaning: “Can you read the stupid emails before you ask for information that I’ve already given you?”

Delia Paunescu brought up her favorite corporate saying:

What followed was pure Twitter office gold. How many of these have you used in your business relationships?

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14 thoughts on “Workplace Passive-Aggressive Phrases that Everyone Should Use

  1. Gee, I’ve used most of those and didn’t realize the negative connotations associated with them, nor was my intent passive-aggressive. I fear that our cyber communications have so inured us to hostility and aggression that we no longer trust each other to simply say what we mean and are becoming suspicious, paranoid, and apt to read unintended negativity into everything. Can’t something merely mean what it says, on its face?

  2. Companies do it too! For example, a recruiter emailed me about an opportunity where the company would “even consider 100% remote” (I’m 100% telecommuting now).

    Sure, why not? Talk’s cheap, I’m not, etc etc.

    As mutual interest perked up came the reality: there’s a new CEO so it’ll be office-based till the initiative stabilizes, then eventually a consideration to transition to remote.

    The check’s in the mail.

    I won’t even pretend to respect them in the morning. Initiatives never stabilize, there’s always something critical.


  3. I agree we all make mistakes which is why: “per my last email.” – I don’t even bother stating the obvious. I copy and paste what I stated in previous email and let it go at that.
    “I’m a little confused” – Maybe I think what’s been written is dumb but with explanation may wind up working. Or else the other party, in talking through plan, realizes it won’t work.
    “Let me know if you need anything else” – I perform a customer service role and I do mean it including when directed at colleagues.
    “I recall this quite differently,” – allows me to put my recall out there, too.
    “Thank you for your feedback! I’ll be sure to keep it in mind!” – For me this usually comes out as: “I’ll take it under advisement.” We’ve received training which tells us to accept feedback as a “gift”.
    “I’m sorry; I think my email/statement probably wasn’t clear. Hopefully this helps” – yup!
    Turn off the lights – nope! It’s part of my security system.

  4. Mine is “I just wanted to send out a gentle reminder” = “I am really trying hard not to blow my flippin’ lid because this is now the FIFTH time I’m asking for this!!”

  5. Where I work, “Sorry, I was on mute” means “I was eating and didn’t want you all to have to listen to me chew,” or (since so many of us work remotely), “The kids were screaming in the background/trucks were going by/other noisy thing was happening and I don’t want you all going deaf”. Default is to be on mute unless you have a comment to make.

    1. You betcha! It’s bad enough when I have to listen to the presenter’s kid in the background, let alone everyone else’s!

  6. I was in a customer service/tech support role. I have used “I am sorry that I wasn’t clear enough in my last email” so many times I have lost count.

    As stated in the article, it can mean anything from “Did you even read the email?” to “You are an idiot!” to “That is NOT what I said.”

  7. Pro-active tops my list. This from a boss whose primary skill was plagiarism. When the president announced a complete revision of the pricing system (over 50% – to increase the user base while changing the revenue model – “big iron” had died due to Moore’s Law) said boss was unable to create the press release. “Not enough time to do a good job. I am too busy selecting the literature fort the next trade show,” was the manager’s response. Still reeling over that one.

  8. I have used all of those phrases in a non-passive-aggressive way: people can legitimately remember conversations differently, they may interpret things differently, and “I’ll let you take it from here” means I’m not going to get in your hair.

    The exception for me is “per my earlier email…” which is very much me being po’d that you didn’t bother to read your email or aren’t paying attention (or are trying to throw me under the bus).

  9. I don’t use “Per my last email” anymore. The phrase I use is: “Please refer to the emails below” when forwarding emails already addressing the situation. Short & to the point.

  10. You betcha! It’s bad enough when I have to listen to the presenter’s kid in the background, let alone everyone else’s!

  11. I’m a bit torn…

    I’ve been guilty of all of these at one point or another, especially the “per my last email” response. On one hand, the utter tsunami of emails that people get I can understand how mine might be lost or forgotten. But on the other hand is it too difficult to sort by name or do a search?

    I guess if I can take 15 seconds to research a response, I feel others should too.

    Anything regarding interpretation of emails to me is not worth it. People constantly misread and misunderstand the written word for so many reasons. In those cases, I just pick up the phone.

  12. ‘Your call is very important to us’
    ‘but not important enough to hire more people to answer the phone.’

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