Effective Communication 101: How to Not Sound Passive-Aggressive in Your Writing

How to Not Sound Passive-Aggressive in Your Writing

Learning English can be challenging enough, but encountering a passive-aggressive tone can add an extra layer of difficulty for learners.

If you have ever found yourself second-guessing the tone of an email or text, you’re not alone! Keep reading to unravel the mystery of passive-aggressive language and learn how to not sound passive-aggressive in your writing.

What is a passive-aggressive tone in writing?

Have you ever read a message and felt hurt, but couldn’t put your finger on why? That’s often the sneaky work of a passive-aggressive tone.

Passive aggression is like someone giving you a fake smile, or someone giving you the side-eye instead of saying what’s bothering them. It’s essentially a way of conveying negative emotions without being outright angry or directly confrontational.

For instance, a colleague replying to an email with “Fine, whatever you think is best,” might imply that they don’t agree in a way that avoids directly confrontational language.

A passive-aggressive tone in writing can often leave people feeling confused and unsure. It can also lead to frustration and affect personal and professional relationships. Open and honest conversations, even the tricky ones, are usually the best option.

However, it’s important to remember that what someone might perceive as a passive-aggressive tone can often just be a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding. So, it’s always important to understand the wider context before jumping to conclusions.

How to not sound passive-aggressive in emails

Sometimes, the most well-meaning messages can sound a bit passive-aggressive. Let’s explore some examples of potentially passive-aggressive phrases and how they can be rewritten in a better way.

“It’s not complicated”

This could come across as condescending and dismissive, implying that the person being spoken to is incapable of understanding the subject.

Alternative: “I understand that this new software can be confusing, would you like me to talk you through it again?”

“As per my last email”

This one’s a classic. It might seem efficient, but this phrase can easily be perceived as impatient, implying that the receiver hasn’t paid attention or has forgotten what was said previously.

Alternative: “I just wanted to follow up on some of the points I made in my last email.”


While this sign-off isn’t fundamentally negative, it can be a very abrupt or dismissive end to an email conversation. In this instance, it only takes an extra word or two to warm up the tone a bit.

Alternatives: “Kind regards” or “Warm regards”.

“Re-attaching again”

This might come across as a hint that the recipient hasn’t remembered the information in question or has misplaced something.

Alternative: “Just in case it’s helpful, I’ve attached the financial document again for your reference.”

“Moving forward”

When used after a disagreement or sensitive topic, this phrase can feel dismissive of the other person’s feelings. It can also come across as if a decision has been made without considering the other person’s concerns or thoughts.


  • “How would you feel if we did it a different way from now on?”
  • “What are your thoughts on how we could proceed with this project?”

How to respond to a passive-aggressive email

If you have received a passive-aggressive email, responding to it can be challenging, but it’s important to handle it professionally.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Cool off first: If the email has left you frustrated or angry, take some time to calm down before replying. Don’t let the frustration fuel your response!
  • Address the content, not the tone: Stick to the facts of the email and respond to any issues that have been raised.
  • Be direct, but professional: Clearly state your perspective or response to the issue but be sure to remain polite and professional.
  • Ask for more information: If the email seems unclear or vague, ask for more specific information. This can help you work out the real issue.
  • Consider having a meeting: Sometimes, it’s better to talk through issues face-to-face or in a call, rather than emailing back and forth. This way, tone can be more clearly conveyed and understood.
  • Ask for advice: If you’re not sure how to respond, ask your mentor, manager or HR department to offer advice on the best way to deal with the situation.

Passive-aggressive text examples

In the world of quick texts and emojis, it’s easy to slip into a passive-aggressive tone without even realising it. Here are some passive-aggressive text examples and how to amend them.

A thumbs-up emoji 👍

Sure, emojis are fun, but watch out – they can pack a passive-aggressive punch! A lone thumbs-up emoji can be a bit of a conversation stopper, leaving the other person wondering if you are just brushing them off.

Try adding a bit of context to your thumbs up, something like “Got it, thank you! 👍” clearly shows that you’ve understood the message.

“No offence, but…”

Just because you say “no offence”, that doesn’t mean you won’t offend the other person. It’s essentially showing that you’re about to say something that’s not-so-nice, and it doesn’t really soften the blow.

Alternative: If you disagree with something, or want to discuss a difficult subject, try saying: “I understand your point, but I think we should try this instead” or “I’m concerned about this, can we talk about it?”


This is the text equivalent to a shrug. It usually conveys a complete lack of interest in the conversation and dismisses the other person’s point, which can be interpreted as an insult.

However, there are other, more constructive ways to express disagreement without being dismissive.


  • Suggesting an alternative without dismissing the other person’s idea – “Maybe we could try going to the new Italian restaurant instead?”
  • Showing you’re acknowledging the other person’s perspective – “I understand your point, but let’s consider other options.”


While “K” can be used as an abbreviation for OK in text conversations, it can often come across as abrupt and uninterested.

Alternative: “OK, thanks for your help!”

“Good for you”

Depending on the context, this phrase can sound insincere or sarcastic, implying you are not genuinely happy for the other person’s success.

Alternative: Try being a bit more enthusiastic, by saying things like “That’s awesome”. Simply adding an exclamation mark can also make your message sound more heartfelt, such as “I’m so happy for you!”

How to respond to a passive-aggressive text message

Dealing with passive-aggressive messages can be tricky and frustrating. They often leave you feeling confused and hurt, but before you react, take a breath and consider these tips:

  1. Stay calm: Don’t let your emotions take over, take a deep breath and approach the situation with a level head.
  2. Respond clearly: Reply with a clear and calm message, stick to the point and don’t add fuel to the fire with more anger or passive-aggression.
  3. Express your feelings without placing blame: Share how the message made you feel without pointing fingers, for example, “Your text left me feeling confused, is everything OK?
  4. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries: If this is something that happens a lot, it’s OK to set boundaries. Let them know what kind of communication you accept and what you don’t.

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