If you’ve ever gotten annoyed and caught up in a passive aggressive email exchange at work, a viral tweet sent recently proves you’re not alone. In fact, emails containing “professional clap backs” can be pretty common among professionals.
After seeing a tense office email exchange between her friend and a co-worker, career expert Danielle René tells CNBC Make It that she couldn’t help but laugh at the situation and tweet out the “professional clap back.”
“A clap back is a snippy response to someone who has likely offended you,” René says.
In the case of email responses, René explains these aren’t messages you necessarily initiate, but a response to someone else attempting to call you out on a situation.
René puts it this way: “In everyday life, you might tell a friend, ‘Don’t ask me for this again, I sent it to you already.’ But in the professional working world, you have to say, ‘Please see below for the email previously sent on….'”
Here’s why people send these types of emails
“Our work culture merges a lot of talented people in sometimes high-stress situations and people are [still] people,” René says. “They get tired, frustrated and petty despite our best intentions to keep a positive attitude.”
Career advice expert for TopResume Amanda Augustine tells CNBC Make It that these phrases, on their own, aren’t inflammatory.
However, she says, they rile people up if there is already underlying tension or an unspoken issue that hasn’t been addressed previously, which is probably why people send these sorts of phrases to begin with.
Augustine points to another reason why workers may send each other professional clap backs: There’s a lack of holding meetings in person. “People are becoming too reliant upon technology to handle situations that require a face-to-face meeting,” Augustine says.”It’s easier to send veiled, passive-aggressive responses via email than to sit down with a colleague and address your issues head-on.”
Although email is a convenient way to avoid uncomfortable conversations, Augustine emphasizes that this tactic rarely solves these problems and can lead to further “professional clap backs.”
On the other hand, emails can be more effective. They provide professionals a way to protect their backs, Augustine notes, and it may be necessary to resort back to that email to use it as proof to help everyone clearly remember what was agreed upon.
“People have a tendency to ‘misremember’ what was agreed upon from meetings or passing conversations,” she says. “It’s important to follow up via email with everyone to make sure those involved are all on the same page when it comes to the scope of a project, role assignments, tasks and associated deadlines.”
It’s important that when you are following up via email, you’re cordial.
Augustine says if any of those phrases bother you, stop and ask yourself, “Does the phrase always bother me when I read it, or only when certain colleagues insert it in their emails?”
Here’s how to resist the urge of sending shady emails
The answer is simple: Talk to the person directly as opposed to relying on written technology.
One solution to “avoid the email war of passive-aggressiveness,” Augustine notes, include picking up the phone or walking over to your colleague’s desk to offer constructive feedback or sharing notes through Google Docs.
“Too many things can be misinterpreted in emails, such as tone. Talk to the other person and clear the air. For all you know, it may be a misunderstanding,” Augustine says. “And, if it’s not, at least you know who you’re dealing with.”
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