Avoid these 5 phrases that make you sound passive aggressive—here’s how successful people communicate

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Editor’s Note: I recently stumbled across this article written by Erica Dhawan from CNBC and I thought I’d share with our readers. I think this is such an intuitive article that explains why being passive aggressive in email communication is not helpful and extremely counter-productive. Our words have meaning; and how we express them says more than the words we use most times. Enjoy the article below!


Today, we live in a world where business, degrees and even entire relationships are conducted behind a screen. As a result, employee frustration and miscommunication is at an all-time high, with tone alone being misinterpreted almost half of the time in email, leading to endless wasted hours and heightened anxiety.

For better or worse, digital communication, whether it’s through email or direct messages on platforms like Slack, don’t let us see each other’s immediate reactions — which is why we look for ways to “politely” express irritation. The key word is “politely,” but it isn’t always interpreted that way.

So let’s take a look at the five most common phrases employees use that actually make them passive aggressive and petty:

1. “Per my last email…”

What it actually means: “You didn’t really read what I wrote. Pay attention this time!”

2. “For future reference…”

What it actually means: “Let me correct your blatant ‘mistake’ that you already knew was wrong.”

3. “Bumping this to the top of your inbox…”

What it actually means: “You’re my boss [or employee]. This is the third time I’ve asked you. I need you to get this s*** done.”

4. “Just to be sure we’re on the same page…”

What this actually means: “I’m going to cover my a** here and make sure that everyone who refers to this email in the future knows that I was right all along.”

5. “Going forward…”

What it actually means: “Do not ever do that again.”

It’s likely that you’ve used one of these phrases before without even realizing that it could be perceived as passive aggressive. Or, you may have been on the receiving end, which can also be frustrating.

(Even as a digital body language researcher, whenever I see “Thanks for your patience” in an email, I can’t decide if they’re brushing me off with an undefined future date, or if they really only need a few days longer than expected to get back to me. In most cases, though, I know they’re just saying “Sorry I’m late with this; it’s taking longer than I thought.” That’s all.)

The right way to express what you mean

So how should we frame our own “Just following up on this” without engaging in any passive aggressiveness? When is it okay to loop in our boss without seeming like a jerk? When do we use the phone to call and clarify something? Continue reading this article on CNBC to learn how successful people communicate.