10 passive-aggressive work phrases and what they really mean

You know the feeling: After explaining how your team’s latest project is going in a detailed email that’s super easy to read, the one person who always nitpicks your work approaches you with painfully obvious questions, the answers to which have already been plainly spelled out. Cue the impolite responses — which luckily flood your mind, not your mouth.

Case in point: This user asked the Twitterverse about what they love to say when people test their patience on the job.

Here are just a few of the answers people gave to @DeeRene_’s question.

*Starts a slow clap*

I could go on, and on, and on — but you get the idea.

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In the spirit of translating passive-aggressive messages like the ones captured by these expertly-crafted tweets, here’s a list of the sometimes-coded messages people might use at work along with a translation of what they might actually mean. (As in everything, remember that context is key.)

“Per my last email … “

What this should mean: “As I wrote in my last email … ”

What this might actually mean: “You idiot. I answered that already … ”

“Please advise … “

What this should mean: “Please tell me what you think I should do.”

What this might actually mean: “Fix this chaos that you have created.”

“In the spirit of striving for excellence … “

What this should mean: “To be the best we can be … ”

What this might actually mean: “You really messed up this time … ”

“Going forward, I would prefer that you…”

What this should mean: “Next time, please do it this way instead … ”

What this might actually mean: “Don’t ever do that again … ”

“I hear you.”

What this should mean: “I am listening to you and care about what you think.”

What this might actually mean: “We may not see eye to eye, but this conversation is over.”

“I’d like to tweak a few small things.”

What this should mean: “You spelled a few things wrong, and this paragraph could be better.”

What this might actually mean: “You have to redo this entire thing from scratch — now.”

“Let’s come up with alternatives.”

What this should mean: “I’d like some more ideas before I make up my mind.”

What this might actually mean: “This isn’t going to work for me.”

“I wish I had the capacity to tackle this.”

What this should mean: “I’m overwhelmed right now.”

What this might actually mean. “I really don’t want to help you.”

“Let’s circle back on it later.”

What this should mean: “Could we revisit this later?”

What this might actually mean. “I don’t want to deal with this — it’s not my problem.”

“It’s on my radar.”

What this should mean: “I’m aware of it.”

What this might actually mean “Forget about it.”

So, if you don’t have anything nice to say …

… you guessed it: don’t say it at all.

Being transparent by using clearer language might not only help you avoid misunderstandings, but it may also help other people cut down on the time they spend trying to decipher your words.

Also, think about it— would you rather work with someone who never seems to say what they’re really thinking, leaving you to waste precious time decoding their messages during the workday? Or someone whose clarity never trips you up?

The bottom line is, use The Golden Rule by speaking others the way you’d like to be spoken to.

This article was first published on September 19, 2017.

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