is it rude to respond to emails with just “ok”?

A reader writes:

This question has two parts:

1. In a professional setting, is it ever really okay to reply to an email or work related text with “ok”. I’m very new to the workforce so I don’t know if this single word, no punctuation beast is normal business or super obvious passive aggressive self important flippant jerky (and a bunch of other adjectives) behavior. It really bothers me, partly because it becomes one of those plausibly deniable gestures of irritation that are by their very nature asking not to be addressed.

Example: when texting to request a day off for a doctor’s appointment, but explaining that if I’m needed I can be flexible because it’s not super urgent, I get an “ok”. This isn’t helpful, and I read it as a professional TL;DR, whatever, eyeroll or something. My boss has actually mentioned with a chuckle sending a similar one word email to a creative director who was over editing some of her work. She’s also not swamped enough that she has no time to respond with more effort than “ok”.

2. My sister, to my great sadness and disappointment, has taken to responding to me often with single word “ok”s. For the last 5 years, she’s held a high-level position in a painfully political and subtext laden work environment where I imagine a lot of “ok”s have been shared bitterly. The terse responses from my sister match a general tendency toward treating many people in her life with the kind of “professionalism” that happens in the workplace — good and bad.This includes HR like meetings when anyone has offended her, bcc:ing me on heated emails with my mom, and just general clear workplace language and management tactics applied to personal relationships that feel alienating and condescending. And because I generally tend to hate jargon and all of the overwrought markings of being a Busy Professional, this grates on me in really bad way.

Is “ok” something that exists in every office, do I somehow elicit it from people, is it worth addressing at work, is it (plus other work spillover things) worth addressing at “home”?

Well, your workplace and your sister are two different issues. Let’s talk about the workplace issue first.

In that context, you are overreacting. Plenty of people do indeed send quick “ok” emails in the workplace. I’m not a fan of it myself, but enough people do it and don’t see anything wrong with it that you shouldn’t be reading it as passive-aggressive, self-important, or rude.

Of course, there are some contexts where it really wouldn’t be appropriate. If, for instance, your manager emailed you about a concern that she wanted you to correct and you simply responded “ok,” you’d likely come across as inappropriately flippant or curt. And in dealing with people you don’t know well, where professionalism and the impression you’re creating matters an extra amount — such as with clients or when talking to a prospective employer about a possible job — it would be inappropriate and come across as overly brusque.

But many, many people use the simple “ok” in response to routine emails at work. Whether or not it’s your style, it’s common and it’s not the loaded communique you’re taking it as.

With the example of your request to your boss for a day off, “ok” means exactly what it says — it means yes. And what’s more, you noted that you sent that request by text — when you’re texting rather than emailing, you should expect extremely short responses. That’s normal with texts. (Although even if this exchange had been by email, her response wouldn’t have been inappropriate.)

I’m just guessing here, but I’d bet that you have other issues with your boss that go well beyond this, and this is just a symptom of larger irritations or concerns.

Now, as for your sister … it sounds like the “ok” emails are the least of the issues here. The issue isn’t that she’s treating your family like she would colleagues; the issue is that she’s alienating and condescending to people. That’s not my purview, but what I can tell you is to avoid conflating the two — it will make you more annoyed about your sister and more annoyed about work, when they’re truly separate things.

{ 260 comments… read them below }

  1. Construction HR*

    Texting can be marginally reliable. I see no overt rudeness in acknowledging the receipt and acceptance of a text with a simple “ok”. FWIW, I’ve seen this shortened to “k”.

    1. Kelly L.*

      My own mother replies to my basic informational texts with “K.” :) And yes, so have several of my bosses, and this was in circumstances where we all really liked each other and got along well.

      1. LMW*

        I am a full sentence, proper punctuation texter. And my mom will text “RU there?” and “K” all the time. Drives me bonkers, but that says more about me than her. :)

        1. The Other Dawn*

          You’re not alone. I can’t stand text-speak, nor can I stand “K.” But that’s my problem. Maybe. :)

            1. Loose Seal*

              When you still have the old flip phone, adding the “O” means you have to tap 3 more keys.

        2. plain jane*

          My Dad keeps emailing things like “glad u2 are g8”. And it is so painful. Because not only do I strongly prefer full sentences & text – but he is _way_ too old for it (over 70), so it just looks forced, that he is trying to prove he is still “with it”. And that emphasizes that he isn’t.

          I think I would be ok with ‘k :)

          1. Parfait*

            g8? gate? huh? I usually understand textspeak abbreviations but that one’s stumped me.

          2. carlotta*

            Ah my nan uses text speak and I kinda think it’s funny. I don’t personally but she has an old-style phone where it is easier to send a ‘how r u? we r gr8 luv nan x’ than the elongated version. Plus, she’s a busy lady! Got all kinds of social engagements, trips and the like going on! (To be fair her texts are usually more interesting than that, normally there’s a joke or someone in the family has done something funny but you get the gist)

    2. Rana*

      I tend to be sympathetic to text speak (in actual texts) because it’s only very recently that I’ve acquired a phone with a keyboard. If you have an older phone without auto-complete, it can take forever to type a single sentence, let alone a well-spelled and properly punctuated one, especially if you don’t text regularly.

      In email, though? I’m less forgiving.

    3. Jessa*

      My only issue with okay is when someone doesn’t read and answers a multiple choice thing with “Ok.” That drives me crazy.

  2. Meg*

    I think the one word “ok” response can only be judged on a case-by-case basis. Some people do use it as a passive aggressive outlet for their frustration, but other people are just busy or distracted or don’t feel up to writing a soliloquy every time they reply to an email. If they’re wicked nice and talkative in person, but send terse emails, I think it’s safe to assume that’s just their writing style.

    Somewhat off-topic, but when I first started out in the workforce, one of the “soft skills” that took me forever to learn was proper email etiquette. I don’t know why, but I really struggled with it, and I would agonize for HOURS over how to word a (usually simple) email.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Oh, yes. Mostly I just agonized over general wording. Was I communicating clearly? Did I get the tone right? Should I write “Dear Sean,” “Hi Sean,” “Hey Sean,” “Sean,” or nothing? And on and on.

        Eventually I realized that it wasn’t a good use of time, and trusted my ability to generally write effective emails.

        However, I still sometimes wonder about that. I’ll throw in an exclamation mark to help indicate a cheerful or casual tone (e.g., “Thanks.” reads a lot differently than “Thanks!”).

        1. Paralegal*

          Oh yes, I hate sending emails asking someone to do something. For most of these emails, it is their job to do this task so the recipient can’t exactly say no. Is it still more polite to ask (“Can you please do this?”) or should I just be direct (“Please do this.”)?

          I also use “Thanks!” liberally.

            1. Paralegal*

              I’ve gotten better at this over time but it did take a while to stop feeling like I was imposing on people, even when I was sending a standard request.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                One thing that’s helpful — think about how managers you’ve respected have worded their requests to you. You probably didn’t feel weird about whatever wording they used, so steal that.

          1. Lora*

            I prefer to ask, in the event that someone says, “you know, I really have a lot on my plate right now, could someone else do it?” But that’s just me.

          2. Cassie*

            I have this same issue. I tend to write “can you…?” even though I really mean “please do…”. I figure most people won’t get offended by it, although I heard a manager was upset by my email request asking if she could do something – she apparently felt like I was ordering her to do it (even though I wrote “can you…?”).

            If it was my subordinate, I wouldn’t feel awkward just saying “please do…”, but I don’t have any subordinates, so everything has to be “can you?”.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit*

          Oh, god, I forgot about this one: when you’re emailing a superior/client/someone you don’t have authority over and they’ve screwed up. Like when someone claims you didn’t email them and you have to resend?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            In a case like having to resend an email, you can assume technical error rather than user error — as in, “I’m sorry you didn’t receive this — here it is again.” (Even if you don’t really think that’s what happened.)

            1. Victoria Nonprofit*

              Oh, yes, I do that all the time.

              And I have to admit that I also forward the original email, as evidence that it wasn’t my screw-up. :)

              1. The Other Dawn*

                I do that, also. I can’t resist sending the original in order to say, “See?! It wasn’t MY error!” Awful, I know.

          2. Ash*

            What I have done in the past is forwarded the message to show the timestamp (to prove I did indeed send it), but then added a little note saying something like, “Here’s the e-mail I sent, crazy how you didn’t get it. Must be some bug in the system!”

              1. EM*

                Maybe it is a passive-aggressive way to say, “Here is the email I sent you forever ago but you forgot about or never received”, but as a consultant, I hate to take the blame for something that wasn’t my fault and could make it look like I’m incompetent, and it also allows the client to save face by blaming your ISP or whatever.

            1. Meg*

              Yeah, I used to do that, but then I was the recipient of such an email and really comes off as if you’re passive aggressively accusing them of just not reading the email.

                1. Meg*

                  But it’s just being rude. Even though that might be what you really think, it doesn’t accomplish anything except to create tension.

            2. Sadsack*

              Agree with Katie the Fed…way too wordy. Better to send, “Below is the email I sent on Friday…” The recipient may have accidentally deleted the original email or moved it into subfolder without realizing it, or just plain overlooked it.

            3. Jazzy Red*

              I really don’t get all my emails at work. Sometimes I get them up to 24 hours after they’ve been sent (even internally), and apparently, there’s nothing IT can do about it. So I usually do figure it’s a glitch if someone says they didn’t receive my email.

              If it’s a co-worker who “didn’t get” my email, I do leave the timestamp on it, but if it’s a superior or a client, I don’t.

        3. Al Lo*

          I also often send one-word “Thanks!” emails. Also, my go-to substitute for “ok” is “Sounds good” (with or without exclamation point, depending on the context). It just seems a little less terse.

          1. Chinook*

            If someone is asking me to do something via email, I often use “understood” instead of “ok.” it feels wrong not to acknowledge the request but a waste of time to say anything else.

          2. Meg*

            “Sounds good” tends to be my default as well, at least via text. I like the way it sounds, and it doesn’t take much longer to type than “ok”.

        4. Anonicorn*

          I used to struggle with how much information to include in my signature. I tried basing it off what my coworkers did, but they ranged from no signature at all to multicolored lines of poetry with angel pictures.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            My company doesn’t allow quotes or pictures in email. I’ve always just used Name, Title, Company, Address, Phone, Fax (if applicable), Email in block format so it wasn’t much of an adjustment.

        5. Lindsay J*

          I had a lot of trouble trusting myself to word my emails properly, too. My whole department did, honestly; we would sort of crowd-source our emails by having others read them and adjust any wordings etc. My current boss does this with our Facebook page posts.

        6. EE*

          Oh, the salutations! When I started in a large company straight out of college, there was a ‘business writing afternoon’ where an external professional told us to start e-mails with “Dear Jane” and never to use “Hi.”

          After a fortnight I realized that ‘dear’ was totally wrong for the office and “Hi Jane” or simply “Jane comma new para” was the default salutation.

          Of course, the intake the year afterwards infamously had an external professional during training telling the men to shave mid-afternoon and the women to apply makeup three times a day. I rather wish I’d been there. I would have torn her to shreds.

      2. Meg*

        Sure! The big thing I struggled with was trying not to come across as too abrupt. When I started out, people would send terse emails and I would read WAY too much into it, and think that a one-word answer meant that they were mad, or I would otherwise just misread their entire tone of voice. As a result, I went overboard trying to come across as nice and upbeat as possible, and would end up burying whatever I was trying to say in layers of niceties and sugarcoating. I’m sure it was frustrating for everyone else, who just wanted an email that got to the point. I eventually adapted my writing style to everyone else’s and noticed that people responded more positively to it.

        Funny side story: When I was in college and had NO IDEA how to craft a professional email, I once sent an email to a professor of mine that started with “Hey Prof”, and the email contained several textspeak slang words. In his reply, he very politely but firmly told me that this was no way to write an email, and I should perhaps focus more on portraying myself as a mature person. That was the beginning of my wake-up call.

        1. JBeane*

          Yes…this happened to me ALL the time. I also had to teach myself to write more directly so people know what the heck I was trying to communicate. I always felt like I was asking for favors and would pad in many layers of politeness and self-effacing statements. I took an informal poll among friends once, and found that many women had to overcome this problem, but not the men.

          1. Susan*

            Oh yes – I think overexplaining/padding is a common problem. It’s one I’ve worked on, and I keep in my mind the idea that people have very short attention spans; if I don’t get straight to the point (within one line), I’ve usually lost them.

            1. Rana*

              Yup. I tend to follow newspaper protocols in my email: first sentence explains what the email is about and what I need.

              Then the rest of the email explains further (if I think it’s necessary) in a separate line or two.

          2. SCW*

            Funny about the padding–I always think I’m going to need to do a lot of persuading to get my boss to agree to something, so I’ll write a lot to try to convince her about it. Then she’ll write back, “Of course, sounds good”. I think I’m still figuring out what is a big thing to ask for and what isn’t. it varies so much sometimes.

            I think it takes a while to figure out what is the right way to communicate via e-mail with new bosses, all part of figuring out your manager’s style.

      3. MK*

        It’ll be great if you write a post on business emails. I often struggle to remember to put enough feel good sentences in my emails so that I don’t sound brusque or rude. I’m perfectly nice and polite in person, but tend to write formal and direct, short emails that may be misinterpreted the wrong way.

        1. Chinook*

          There is definitely a different level of brusqueness that is acceptable in offices versus regular life. I remember training someone to replace me as the office assistant and having her call one of our suppliers about returning a product. As it happenned, she was from Nova Scotia and as friendly as the sterotype. She handled the call and it was over quickly and I saw her just staring at the phone, a little confused. I asked her if she was okay and she said she was. I then asked her if she felt like she had been rude to the person on the other end. She looked at me and smiled and said that was it. I told her that brisque manner that is expected in that type of phone calls takes some getting used to but that she did just fine. Then we laughed as we discussed how, back home (meing our different provinces) it was considered absolutely necessary to chat about the weather or somethign else innocent before doing business but that, in that paticular city, it just wasn’t done that way.

      4. Paralegal*

        I’ve struggled with this! It seems so simple – for example, send an email to the client forwarding them a revised version of the paperwork. But then I overthink it, and it takes forever. Possible issues:

        1. Level of formality. Dear Mr. Smith? Dear John? If the client writes “Hi Joe” in his emails to my boss, can I respond “Hi John?”

        2. Wording. Attached please find / I have attached / Please see the attached / Here is a …

        3. The client usually communicates directly with my boss and doesn’t know who I am. Do I mention that I am his assistant?

        4. Do I mention why the paperwork is being re-sent, and if so, do I specify the error that was corrected? Or do I just refer to it as a revised copy.

        And, of course, a lot of the above depends on the client. One client might prefer more casual emails, while another client might find “Hi John, here is the revised paperwork” to be way too informal.

        1. the gold digger*

          1. Start formal with someone you have never met and take your cues from the response.
          2. “I am sending you X document….”
          3. “My boss, Wakeen, has asked me to send you this information.”
          4. “I am sending you a revised copy of the Chocolate sourcing contract – Spouts – because there was a typo in section 3a. It has been corrected from ‘We will use mostly fair trade cocoa beans’ to ‘We will use only fair trade cocoa beans.'”

          Basically, make it very easy for the reader to know what is going on.

          1. the gold digger*

            I worked with a guy who was super smart. He could look at a spreadsheet of data from the factory and know exactly what needed to be done. His method of asking the factory to solve the problem was to send the spreadsheet and write, “See attached.” He expected that was enough information for everyone else to diagnose the problem, develop a solution, and implement it.

            I had to remind him that not everyone got a 36 on the ACT.

            Tell the reader why you are writing to him and what you want to happen. Make it easy!

            1. Lora*

              Oh my, I do this. Jeez, doesn’t everyone take advanced spectroscopy and photochemistry? I mean DUH, you’re exciting the pi-orbitals and shifting the emission wavelength as the photonic energy is absorbed by the mass, forming a free radical that can tunnel electrons using partial charges on the corrinoid…wait, where are you going?

                1. Lora*

                  That would be bad. Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            Perfect, gold digger. This is something everyone in the business world should know.

        2. A teacher*

          I guess I look at it as someone said on here not to long ago, we are all adults and the level of formality my boss sets is the level of formality I respond with. Our superintendent insists on being called Dr. Teapot, when I’ve interacted with her she always says “Hello, I’m Dr. Teapot.” She’s always seems surprised when I and others “below her” as she says respond with, “Hi, Dr. Teapot, I’m Miss Kettle.” If someone wants formality that’s fine but then expect the same. The same goes with email responses

          1. Jessa*

            I do not understand that, why people expect others NOT to go for the same level of formality. “Hi, Dr. Teapot, I’m Sue?” heck no.

            1. A Teacher*

              I don’t either, but then I’m the teacher that would be fine with students calling me by my first name. As that’s not allowed they shorten my super long and awkward last name to Miss K instead of my full name or some just call me the las initial like ” K”

        3. LeeD*

          For #4, for the love of all that is holy, DO identify the change. You don’t know what people have taken note of in the earlier version, and they’re probably not going to go through the entire revised document looking for changes.

          1. Chinook*

            At the very least, highlight where the issue is in the document so the person receiving it doesn’t have to reanalyze the document.

          2. Jessa*

            Yes, unless it’s such a total re-write that you want them to read the whole thing again, seriously, point out the differences. The longer the document the more important this is.

        4. Cassie*

          Sometimes I like when the correction is pointed out (so I don’t have to go back and compare the original with the new) but I don’t always do that. For example, my boss sent out some slides for a meeting that showed some poor results – my boss decided he didn’t want to share that in the meeting, so we removed it and re-sent the slides, but didn’t point out what was changed or why.

          Of course, the others could have compared the two sets of slides, and asked, but we were assuming nobody would do that.

      5. CoffeeLover*

        I definitely experienced some email awkwardness. I wanted to be concise, but still come across as warm. The reason I got over this rather quickly is because in my first performance review, my first manager said I was really good at writing emails (right amount of warmth and conciseness). It meant more because I hadn’t actually solicited the feedback. When I first started off I would write out the email, then go through and remove the fluff. As I wrote more, I got better at excluding the fluff as I wrote, which significantly reduced writing time. :)

      6. TFTF*

        How to word a request: Please…. / Would you please….? / I would be grateful if you would…. / I would appreciate…. / Kindly…. Also: by X date / at your convenience / at your earliest convenience / etc.

        1. Chinook*

          If you are going to email a request, it is helpful to put something like “Info needed: what size chocolate teapots do we have?” or “Action required-tempered chocolate manual needs updating” in the email subject line so that someone looking at their inbox can quickly see why they are being emailed (especially if reading it on a smartphone).

      7. Marie*

        Oh, I have made so many mistakes with email etiquette:

        1. I would wait to respond until I knew the answer (leaving the sender wondering whether I got the message and why it was taking so long). I’ve had to learn to respond immediately with an “ok, will do” email to colleagues or bosses, and with a “Dear client, we have received your documents and will respond by X date/time” to clients.
        2. I would send emails which were too long and rambling for my bosses to figure out. I had to learn to put the required action in the subject line of the email (e.g. “Are you available at 3pm for a meeting?” or “Client X has asked for a legal opinion”).
        3. I would assume that if I wasn’t a final decision-maker, I shouldn’t be the one to respond to the email. I learned that my bosses value me most when I save them time. Now, if I am not the decision-maker but have some ownership of the matter, I draft a response and run it by my boss before sending.

        My continuing email etiquette struggles:
        1. I never seem to know when to CC and when not to.
        2. I have a weakness for raising awkward points by email rather than face to face as I know I should. My previous boss and I were both kinda asperger-y, so we did everything by email, emails meant exactly what they said, and I got lazy at reading subtexts and situations.

        1. The IT Manager*

          RE #1. I have annoying colleguege who does what you describe. She will send a “will work on it soon” email response immediately and follow it with the answer within several hours to a few minutes. That just clutters my inbox and often I don’t get around to reading it until the answer is already in my inbox.

          It would be different if researching the answer took longer, but it’s part of her fondness for sending “polite” but unneccessary and thereby cluttering emails.

          1. Marie*

            Heh. Interesting – but I think it’s industry-specific. In my industry (legal), people expect instant responses and get upset if they don’t get acknowledged.

          2. Leslie Yep*

            Our norm is that you should respond to each email within 24 hours, so either you can answer the question by then, or you write back to say that you’re working on it and when you think you can complete it.

            Totally sometimes happens that I send a message at the 24 hour mark that I’m waiting on some details from elsewhere and then 20 minutes later it shows up in my inbox, but for the most part, it balances keeping my colleagues up to speed without clogging their inboxes.

            We also work to consolidate emails if possible so if I get multiple asks from the same person, I try to send back one email with progress on all of them.

            1. Chinook*

              I actually prefer to have my answers back in the separate emails because they are then easier to search in Outlook, especially if everyone uses their subject lines correctly.

              I agree with you completely on the 24 hour rule for emails. I feel the same way even about personal emails – if I need an answer more urgently, I will call you. Anytime I start to wonder about a response quicker than that, I remind myself that there was a time when I didn’t always have the ability to answer emails (or even check my voicemail) when I was on the bus and I survived just fine.

          3. Cat*

            It just depends. I don’t need a “will do” email if (a) it’ll be a few minutes or (b) I sent an email on a non-sensitive matter to one person who I know will do what I want in due time If it’s more than a few minutes and there’s a chance they wont have time or didn’t see it, I need to know the person is working on it or going to work on it so I don’t have to worry about whether I need to find someone else or track the person down to find out if it’s being done.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit*

          I need to keep relearning #1; too often I let an email sit for too long because I’m waiting to be able to respond to it fully. That leaves people hanging and gives the impression that I’m not on top of what I’m doing.

        3. Natalie*

          Argh. Regarding #1, I have a colleague who apparently does not reply to emails unless absolutely necessary and it drives me up the freaking wall. Most recently he never responded to a request or 2 follow-ups, he just finally made the change I had sent him without telling me. I literally don’t understand how it could be hard to send a simple “Done” email.

      8. Laura*

        At my first internship, they get me a lecture on the proper use of CC versus the To field. I have used those lessons in the future, but I dont think their rules apply in my current position. If you are writing a post, might be interesting.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          “To” includes people who need to take action and people who need to know what’s going on.

          “Cc” includes people who are mentioned in the email, people who are interested in what’s going on, and usually assistants to the people in the first category. (Believe me, if my name is being bandied about in emails, I want to know about it, especially if it includes the words “Jazzy Red will be responsible for…”)

      9. Just a Reader*

        I think a lot of people new to the work world struggle with this. I was really overly formal and it took a long time to correct. This or an inappropriate lack of formality seems to be normal for newbies.

        Ditto struggling with brevity–people new to the workforce often don’t know how much detail is needed or how to identify the most important info, so that put it all into an email novel and the crux of the message gets lost.

      10. some1*

        Not me, but I’ve worked with people who send you an email and then either call or stop by your desk to tell you exactly what the email was. Within 10-15 of sending!

      11. Nichole*

        My biggest struggle with this has been figuring out how much to say. I always feel like I’m either too wordy or too terse. I’ve gotten better, but I still spend waaaay too long thinking about wording, adding, deleting, and un-deleting.

    1. JMegan*

      I have the opposite problem – I’m very much a “never use ten words when a hundred will do” kind of person. It has taken me ages to realize that most people don’t even read those sorts of emails, let alone respond to them! So I’m always working on editing down my thoughts to some sort of form that people can actually use in the workplace.

      (And just to prove my own point, I have now edited and deleted multiple further thoughts on this topic – I’m going to stop here!)

      1. Windchime*

        I used to have the same problem as JMegan….I would write wordy, long, explanatory emails until I realized that people wouldn’t read through all that just to try to figure out what I was saying. I’m now a big fan of the bulleted list in emails; whether I’m sending questions or explanations, it seems that I do better with bullets and not much fluff.

        Some people have perfected the art of corporate speak, and their emails are padded with so much jargon and corporate-speak that I can’t even figure out what they were trying to say. Is this just for my information? Is there an action item? Is it work/therapy? I’m so confused!

      2. Lindsay J*

        Same here (which I’m sure won’t surprise anyone who as seen me comment here).

        And my last boss was somebody who was usually reading/responding to emails via his iPhone so brevity was important. I pretty quickly learned to edit down my emails as much as possible, and that if I couldn’t edit it down to a sentence or two that it was better to send: “Boss, I need your input on issue X. Please drop by when you get a moment.”

    2. Anonymous*

      I have a series of canned responses that basically amount to okay, got it, on it, etc. When I am a bit overbooked, I definitely will resort to cut and paste.

      1. Aimee*

        In my old (email customer service) position, I had so many canned responses, I created macros for them. Every key on my keyboard was a macro (I kept the ones I used a lot, like copy, paste, bold, etc but the majority were my canned responses).

        The newer versions of Outlook don’t allow macros as far as I can tell though. Thankfully, I haven’t really needed them since I left that position.

        1. EA*

          I’d just keep a text file with all your canned responses and then copy/paste as needed.

          It’s possible to create an excel macro that will generate an email through Outlook, but I’ve only used that for sending something to a specific set of people, never for dynamically addressing an email. Might be possible, but more difficult.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            In Apple Mail, I have a bunch of responses that I use all the time set up as signatures — then I just choose the right “signature” from the drop-down menu.

          2. EleanorHiggsByson*

            In Outlook you can now directly create email templates under Quick Steps, or save canned text through Quick Parts. Extremely helpful. I do a lot of FTPing in my work so it’s good to be able to shoot customers full FTP links with the username and password within it quickly!

    3. Hazel*

      I just sent an “ok” email reply to an employee moments ago. She was letting me know that she’s leaving early to run some errands. A longer reply wasn’t really warranted…”Hope your trip to the dry cleaner goes well!”? If I didn’t reply at all, though, perhaps she would think I didn’t see the message. So “ok” it is!

    4. nyxalinth*

      May partner tends to just use a flat ‘OK’ in emails/chat when I say something she doesn’t like, so for her, it is a rather passive-aggressive thing. if she says ‘yeah’ or the like, then all is well. Because of how it is from her, I’ve had to train myself to understand that a flat OK or the like isn’t always intended as rude or pissy or passive-aggressive.

    5. SCW*

      Finding your e-mail voice is so hard–I’ve had a number of bosses with very different e-mail styles, which has helped me to realize there isn’t one professional style. But I will still agonize about proper wording–how to communicate we are happy to have someone join us, while still sad to see someone leave, how to communicate urgency without sounding desperate or like the building is burning down.

      Right now I’m struggling because I’m not sure how much info to e-mail my boss, and in what circumstances she wants to know something in an e-mail and when to save it for the monthly report. She only occasionally gives feedback about this, and when I asked she has been vague. Today she came to my location and I realized something I should have e-mailed her about and hadn’t, it was good news, but I had mostly thought about it in terms of letting her know about problems!

      1. Jazzy Red*

        SCW, if you make notes about what your boss has said as to what is email worthy and what is good in the monthly report, you might be able to discern a pattern, which could be helpful.

  3. LK*

    OP I feel your pain, because my boss “OK”s me all the time. It’s annoying, but not inappropriate or rude (and my boss is generally a rude and inappropriate person).

    If you need more info than just a yes/no/ok, phrase your communications so that they require a specific response – for example, “Boss, we’re out of chocolate teapots” vs “We’re low on chocolate teapots – should I order more of the dark or the milk?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, I would say don’t do that — you’ll do your job better if you propose a course of action and make it easier for your boss to give you a quick reply.

    2. Jamie*

      Always dark – I’ve never understood the point of milk chocolate…where as dark chocolate is food of the gods.

      Sorry – but good point in that it’s different if you’re asking for a detailed reply and not getting it as opposed to just an ‘ok’ as response to information given and received without needing additional details.

      1. fposte*

        Hello, Mr. Sprat, it’s your missus here. I will eat all the milk chocolate you disdain.

        And I agree with Alison that you phrase the query so it’s ok to say ok, not so that the boss has to give an answer beyond that. “I’m placing the new teapot order and decided to order 60/40 dark to milk based on use–let me know if that’s okay and I’ll push the button.”

        1. Anonymous*

          To make it even more complicated, at my company you have to give the ultimatum deadline with the reason for the deadline and the action that will happen if no response is received (as requested by leadership). For example: “I’m placing the new teapot order tonight so we can have them for tomorrow’s shipment. I am ordering 60/40 dark to milk based on use. If you have any concerns, please let me know before 5pm today.”

          If you just say, “let me know if that’s okay” around here it is likely no one will ever get back to you!

          1. Anonymous*

            Oh and your email subject needs to say “Action Requested by 5pm today: Teapot Order Review”

            1. ac*

              I effectively do this with my scattered and spread-too-thin boss. It works great for us as he has a deadline instead of getting to it when he has time (as that will never happen…)

              1. Anonymous*

                Yep, exactly. and it also covers your behind if he comes to you two days later asking why you only ordered 60% dark chocolate teapots…

      2. The IT Manager*

        Apropo of chocolate … I toured a chocolate factory and it included chocolate tasting. Awesome. Also their frozen hot chocolate was amazing and perfect in the weather.

        Fun factiod:
        – milk chocolate has 6 ingrediants
        – dark chocolate has only 5
        – white chocolate has 5 ingrediants as well but it’s a different 5 dark chocolate obviously

        A tastey and educational tour

      3. Janelle*

        If you cannot find fposte, I will gladly take your milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is wretched stuff.

    3. Chinook*

      “If you need more info than just a yes/no/ok, phrase your communications so that they require a specific response – for example, “Boss, we’re out of chocolate teapots” vs “We’re low on chocolate teapots – should I order more of the dark or the milk?””

      I had one boss who wold read my either/or questions and still reply “ok.” After the 5th time, I noticed the pattern and would email back that he needed to make a choice because both were not okay.

      I took it as a sign of his confidence in me, though, that he felt he could just agree with whatever I told him.

      1. Felicia*

        I had a boss like that, where when I’d ask a question that was either/or, she’d still answer ok. Like I asked “Should I glaze the new chocolate teapots, or should I frost them?” and she’d answer with “ok”. The only time ok as an email answer bugs me is when it doesn’t make any sense and proves that they didn’t actually read the email. I hated sending an email asking if we should meet on Wednesday or on Thursday and getting an ok as a response.

      2. Lindsay J*

        My old boss did the same thing to me:

        “Making next week’s schedule. Do the extended hours apply to just Friday, or both Friday and Saturday?”


        “Yes to which one?”

  4. BCW*

    I’d rather get an ok as a sign that they saw and acknowledged my email than nothing at all.

    1. RaeLyn*

      I’m with you……some people never respond leaving you to wonder if they received your email! Would rather get a K than nothing at all.

    2. danr*

      Yes, I hate when emails seem to fall beyond the event horizon. An ‘ok’ or ‘thanks’, depending on the email conveys a lot of information.
      On the other side… if you’re in a mass emailing, and you want to say OK or Thanks, please don’t click ‘Reply to all’.

  5. Jamie*

    I have no problem with ‘ok’ – and yes, I do it myself – as long as it’s appropriate for the context. Some emails just don’t require a grander response.

    If I send Jane an email that I’ve gotten her new computer in and I’ll have it set up by Friday what else is there to say except ok – maybe okay, thanks.

    Oh Jamie, thanks ever so for the work you’ve put in – not only selecting the correct build for my new PC which will adequately handle my workload yet still be cost efficient and in keeping with your budget, but in loading all the software and configuring the settings so I have the most optimal experience possible. I really appreciate your dedication to these lower level tasks and I don’t know how I can ever thank you. Do you like brownies?”

    That would be a little much. :) And I’m aware it’s not what the OP was asking for – but even having to come up with a sentence for something that’s basically an fyi is silly, imo.

    1. Marie*

      Yeah, I send lots of ‘ok’ emails, but like you, I tend to add something on the end, just to clear up the tone. “Ok, I will send that to you today” or “Ok, thanks” or “Thanks for letting me know”.

      I clear up the tone even more with the junior on my team, just because I know how angsty it is to be a junior lawyer. So if she sends me a draft and I make changes, I’ll start with “thanks; you’ve done well” before telling her what I changed. If she HASN’T done well but I can see she’s tried, I call it a thorough job instead:)

    2. doreen*

      I’d love to get replies like “OK” from my supervisor. I’ll send an email describing an issue and how I plan to respond to it . The response I get is at least two to three paragraphs about the factors he considered and his thought process before he finally tells me to go ahead with my plan. ” OK” would save both of us so much time.

      1. clobbered*

        Yes! I also like getting okays. If I send a message that is of the “I’m going to do X, which is totally non-risky and uncontroversial, and just letting you know FYI cause I know you like to be kept in the loop”, getting “ok” is a win! All I need to do. I need many things in life, spending more time reading email isn’t one of them.

        Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And okay, means okay. Whether it is “ok, i can live with it” or “okay, that’s fine” is within the normal range of the word and it is what it is.

        If it’s not, people are free to respond “Great!” or “Grumble”. So, okay means okay.

        If you’re in the UK, you also have the ultra succint “ok ta” at your disposal (= “okay thanks”).

    3. Aimee*

      I don’t know, if I had your job, I would expect those emails to always include the brownie quesiton. Ideally they would end with “because I am bringing you some tomorrow.”

    4. MovingRightAlong*

      Important to note: it would be an irrevocable breach of etiquette to not follow up the question “do you like brownies” with an offer of brownies.

      1. the gold digger*

        And then you get my IT guy, who, when I asked him if what his favorite cookie was, told me he DIDN’T LIKE SWEETS.

        Don’t worry. It all worked out. I made cheese crackers for him.

        But it threw me for a little while.

      2. Z*

        It made me laugh to imagine the reaction to, “Do you like brownies? Oh, I’m not making any. I was just curious.”

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          When it comes to the important things, I don’t like to mess with uncertainties. :)

    5. Lora*

      Hey, the day I get a build that can handle my workload, I will buy chocolate cheesecake for the entire IT department. It’s only happened once, and there was only one IT guy, so it was easy.

  6. Ponies!*

    Far worse than “ok” is the dreaded bitchy ellipsis:

    Sounds good…
    That works…

    I can’t tell whether the folks that do this are trying to be passive aggressive or just genuinely do not understand the function of the ellipsis. Either way, HATE.

    1. fposte*

      But I think the “bitchy” term is an example of where the problem can come from the recipient and not the sender. There’s nothing inherently bitchy about an ellipsis, and, as you note, people sprinkle them liberally without meaning anything particular. Why not default to assuming that the email is literal?

    2. Lily in NYC*

      What? I admit to sometimes using an ellipsis when a period would suffice – but what is bitchy about it? I can’t really articulate what I mean – I think it’s use is more like signifying a thought trailing off… (like I just did here).

      1. AnonHR*

        I think that might be the the problem. When there is a trail-off after an “ok” or “sounds good”, or “thanks” in conversation, it’s like a verbal version of the side eye or raised eyebrows. In writing, that’s how I read it and I usually have to consciously re-read it to avoid that feeling that I’ve annoyed someone and that it’s just their way of writing.

        1. Broke Philosopher*

          I get a lot of emails from my boss that just say “Thanks…” which I inevitably read as sarcastic. Then I have to remind myself that he just chooses to put in an ellipse instead of a period for whatever reason, and that thanks is genuine.

      2. MovingRightAlong*

        I agree with AnonHR. The ellipses always implies that there is more to say on a subject. If the statement goes unsaid, you’re telling the recipient to fill in the blank. That can certainly come off as passive aggressive, even if that wasn’t your* (the writer in general, not Lily in NYC specifically) intention. The recipient will be left wondering what the unspoken thought was and why you didn’t simply include it. If the recipient knows that just how you write, then it doesn’t matter; but if they don’t know that ellipses are just part of your style, they’ll probably read into it. When you write “Ok…” you are (unintentionally or not) writing “Ok…[I have other thoughts on this, but you figure it out].”

        Just to get nerdy on everyone, it’s useful to note that an ellipses is a joining punctuation, not a closing one. That may part of the confusion. If you’re following a sentence with an ellipses, but not including a period as well (as in “….”) you haven’t actually closed the sentence. A full sentence is always followed by a period or some other closing punctuation. So, if you just say “Ok…” or “Yes…,” you’re even more strongly implying that you have something else to say, but just aren’t saying it. Again, whether that’s a good idea may depend strongly on your audience.

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          Please excuse the spelling mistakes. I clearly need to go eat my lunch instead of just telling myself I’m going to eat my lunch. Ellipsis, singular; ellipses, plural.

    3. Liz in a library*

      I used to work for a woman who did this with everything! So frustrating, because there is a big inflection difference between “that could work…” and “that could work!”

    4. Meg*

      I still hate seeing the ellipsis. I don’t think people always mean it that way, but it just … seems rude. I don’t even have a good reason as to why.

    5. TFTF*

      It implies there’s something left unspoken at the end of it, which could be something negative? Otherwise, why not just (a) say what it is, or (b) end with a period or something equally decisive?

      1. Emily K*

        I had a boss once who ended all of his emails in ellipses and I always questioned whether he was unhappy with my work. Like you said, it somehow indicated uncertainty but not wanting to actually say whatever he was thinking, like he was unsure if my work was up to snuff. I can’t tell you how much it shot my nerves I spent every time I sent him a big project and got, “Thanks…” back.

        1. Jen in RO*

          My boss is remote and whenever he sends me an IM that starts with ‘Hi Jen…’ I get worried.

          1. the gold digger*

            “It’s just we’re putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that’d be great…”

    6. Katie the Fed*

      I’ll add to this my utter frustration at inappropriate quotation marks. Unless it’s an actual quote, or meant to be ironic, quotation marks shouldn’t be used.

      There’s a huge difference between:

      That’s a beautiful suit you’re wearing.
      That’s a beautiful “suit” you’re wearing. (implies irony – the wearer is not wearing a real suit)

      I’m going to book club.
      I’m going to “book club.” (You’re just going to drink with your friends, aren’t you?)

      1. some1*

        Don’t forget:

        Our manager told us to stop working on that project because “that doesn’t need to be what your energy is focused on now”

        is correct but

        Our manager told us to stop working on that project because “that doesn’t need to be what our energy is focused on now”

        is not. If you use use quotes, you are supposed to spell out what was literally written or said, or else you write “that doesn’t need to be what [our] energy is focused on now” for purposes of clarity.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that second one is getting more common again–I’ve definitely noticed its increased frequency.

        2. SCW*

          Though the boss may have said “our” in the context of joint work. I have a tendency to say “we” want to do something in communication to my boss or outside our division, to indicate what we as a division want to do, even though I’m the one making the ultimate decision. I think it comes from being an assistant manager for a while, where I never got to make the ultimate decision. Also working for a boss who wanted all decisions to be collaborative.

      2. Layla*

        I have a colleague who uses quotation marks weirdly and I just can’t figure out why.
        She says things like “Jane” is going to do it.
        I would understand more if it was : Jane “is” going to do it
        Sarcastically meaning Jane will never get around to it

    7. Mo*

      I used to work in a call center… And no joke… This is how someone would type their notes in a customer’s account… Ellipses at the end of sentences… Ellipses sometimes…in the middle of a sentence… Ellipses… Ellipses every where…

      But usually the emails she’d send out would be free of them, so I really didn’t get what the purpose was.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Romance author Barbara Cartland did that in her books, and I never did finish reading the first one. I think she wanted the heroine to be breathless with passion, but she came across as more asthmatic.

    8. Anonymous*

      What’s worse is when the person who does it is known for being passive aggressive and for having poor grammar, so you cannot tell what she’s up to.

    9. EE*

      An old boss of mine would use a two-dot ellipsis in pretty much every response. It drove me mad, first for the exact same reason you state, secondly because until a clear pattern was established, it wasn’t clear if he was making an ellipsis typo with too few dots or a full stop with too many!

  7. Attorney*

    I use “ok” and other one-word email responses on a daily basis, and don’t mean anything by it except “ok.” As in, yes, acknowledged, sure, etc. I don’t consider it flippant, jerky, or passive aggressive. When I have dozens of emails to reply to, I try to be as concise as possible. Especially if I’m answering emails with my phone rather than a full keyboard (as I often do if I’m out of the office, in court, wherever), the fewer letters the better. My coworkers do the same. I think the OP is reading too much into something that is incredibly common in my experience.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      The problem is that many, many people think of it as too curt and off-putting (myself included – I hate when i get an “ok” email). If it’s done by most people in your office, then it’s fine there. I’m not sensitive about many things, but this is a pet peeve for me. I would only write an “ok” email to someone I was angry with or trying to get rid of. So when I get one, I automatically wonder if the person is annoyed or just rude/unaware of tone.

      1. Anonymous*

        But why do you read “Ok” and start to wonder if the person is annoyed or rude. Why don’t you read it and go, hey they said “Ok” and continue on with whatever it is you are doing? What exactly do you want that e-mail to say instead of “Ok”?

        1. AM*


          Honestly, this appears to be a problem with recipients reading too much into quick responses. It is better to start with the assumption that the sender meant the literal meaning of what he or she wrote rather than to automatically assume implied rudeness or anger.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          I really don’t know why. I am not one to read tone into things in general nor am I sensitive. But “ok” and nothing else seems to have a “curt” tone to me, even if it’s not the intent. What I would like the email to say is just one more word – like: ok, great. Ok, got it. Ok, thanks. Ok, will do. It takes one second more and just comes across as more civil to me.

          1. doreen*

            Adding one word after OK works in some situations, but not so well in others – and what you find more civil may set me on edge. For example, I prefer OK to “OK,got it” 90% of the time. For some reason, “got it” annoys me unless there has been an explanation or instructions involved to “get” and my first thought about “OK , got it” in response to a request for a day off is ” Seriously? You needed to let me know you understood?” . I know that’s just my own little quirk ( and also that the “got it” is there simply so “OK” is not the complete response) but that’s my point. My quirk is not the same as your quirk, neither of them is the same as the Wakeen’s quirk and it’s unreasonable to expect people to keep track of what I think is silly, or you think is rude or Wakeen thinks is too informal rather than simply conform to generally accepted standards.

    2. Marie*

      The thing is, attorneys (like me) do lots of things which wouldn’t be quite right for other industries. For example, if a client asks an attorney what course of action they should take, the attorney will cover the advice in disclaimers and on-the-other-hands. An engineer, on the other hand, will say “Build the tank 10m high and 4m wide. Trust me, that’s the sort you want. I’ve been doing this for years.” It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the brevity that comes with billing by the minute might not be appropriate in other industries.

      On a side note, I plan to answer future emails with “Affirmative”, like in Flight of the Conchords.

  8. Victoria Nonprofit*

    I had a boss who loved “thanks.” That is: no capitalization, no preamble, etc. It took me a loooong time to accept that he was genuinely saying “Thank you, Victoria,” rather than secretly thinking “Thanks for nothing. God. I wish you were better than you are. Sheesh. Why did I hire you? But yeah, thanks for doing that thing.”

    1. Kelly L.*

      Sometimes it’s even “Thx.” :) But in the context of a good working relationship, can still be totally genuine!

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        “Thx.” would work just fine on me. The casual spelling would reassure me that our relationship was appropriately friendly. “thanks.” put me on edge. :)

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            Oh, because I’m an insecure creature – totally my issue to solve, not my employers’.

            If I wrote “thanks.” it would be because I was being sarcastic (e.g., “Oh, you just gave me another project, even though I’m working 60 hour weeks and can’t keep my head above water? thanks.”) or deliberately unenthusiastic (… I actually can’t think of a context for this). I’d never use those tones at work (sarcasm is sooooo not my style, not even in an environment where it’s appropriate and friendly). So, when I see someone else use that language I assume they mean what I would mean. That’s the logic, but I get that it’s not reasonable.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              At least you realize what the problem is. I think a lot of us are insecure to some degree.

              I have an employee who gets freaked out every time I ask to talk to her. I’ve NEVER yelled at her – I’ve only done a course correction like once or twice, and it was over minor stuff. Still, every time I ask her to stop by, she gets nervous and thinks she’s in trouble. Usually it’s something like I wanted to tell her she got an award or that I got her into a training class she wanted. So now I have to say “Jane, can you stop by when you get a chance – I have some good news!”

              1. SCW*

                I had a boss who said everyone looked terrified every time she asked them into her office, so she would say “Can we talk, it’s nothing bad” or “let’s touch base, it isn’t about you.” Now I’m a manager, I think the fear can come from not having a lot of casual meetings, so that every sit down is a serious sit down.

    2. P*

      I can see your reasoning – it reminds me of my one facebook acquaintance who writes “happy birthday.” on my wall every year. The tone just communicates the bare minimum of the sentiment, like they didn’t really want to write it but feel like they’re obligated.

      1. Windchime*

        That reminds me of the banner that Dwight wrote: “it’s your birthday.” I think it was for Kelly’s botched birthday party.

  9. Anonymous*

    What would you (either OP or AAM) prefer to read instead of “Ok”.

    I will often respond with 1 word emails, “Thanks” and “Done” are maybe 1/3 of my outgoing emails. If my employer wants to make good use of my time is spending an extra several minutes constructing (and wringing my hands over) a longer e-mail really a good use of my time?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I use and prefer “thanks!” or “sure, that’s fine.”

      To me, it sounds less curt than “ok” and takes the same amount of time to write.

      1. Anonymous*

        But as Victoria pointed out even “Thanks” can be taken as curt and undoubtedly “sure, that’s fine” could be too. Isn’t this more about read less into the emails. When it says thanks, hear thanks. When it says ok, hear ok. When it says you’re an evil jerk and you’re fired, then go ahead and hear that. But none of the other comments mean that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If someone takes “Thanks!” (with an exclamation mark) as curt, I cannot help them. Exclamation mark should eliminate any perception of curtness in most people.

          Although I agree, yes, read less into emails. Hence my response to the original letter.

              1. HR lady*

                I don’t buy that, either. However, the multiple exclamation points (“Blood drive will be on January 10th!!!!!!”) do seem unprofessional. Only on rare occasions have I used more than one exclamation point in a business setting – and then, it’s probably just 2 (like “Thanks!! You really saved me from a jam.”)

              2. Anonymous*

                I don’t either, but I also don’t buy that “Ok” is unprofessional and to be avoided.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Yes. You said you didn’t prefer it but that is very different from it creating anxiety or creating an unprofessional perception.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  To be clear, “ok” is not unprofessional (with the exception of the types of situations I noted as inappropriate). If it’s creating anxiety, that’s on the recipients, not on the senders.

                3. Jazzy Red*

                  To Alison: + 100 times!

                  Some people just go around all day begging to be offended. There’s not much you can do to help them.

              3. Consultant Liz*

                We can agree to disagree, but to offer another perspective as a manager, I think exclamation points make people (especially women which is unfair but true) sound less mature, and unnecessarily excitable.

                I coach people to go on a exclamation point diet – either reconsider the exclamation point OR if you are trying to communicate something requiring a high level of emotion then pick up the phone. One exception may be, “Congratulations on the new baby!”

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think it really depends on the rest of their persona. If someone is coming across as less mature and overly excitable in other ways, yes. But some people have the opposite problem and could use some softening up of their image.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      OK, great. That’s great. Good, thanks. Ok, thanks. Sure thing. Ok, will do. OK, got it. There are so many variations that sound a lot nicer than a simple OK.

      1. Anonymous*

        So do I need a list that I vary from time to time because if I say “OK, great.” every time is someone going to start to read into it.

        Am I missing a whole bunch of people who are upset with me because they respond with brief emails?

        1. Emily K*

          Actually, there are a lot of emails I send on a regular basis where the entire text applies each time (“QA Testers, This week’s teapots are is ready for quality assurance testing. Please test them for color, weight, and capacity. Thanks!” sent every week, or “Weekly Teapot Sales Report: Attached please find this week’s teapot sales report. The supporting data is located on the server in the Teapot Sales Data folder. Please contact me if you have any questions.” sent every week). I literally go into my Sent folder, press Reply All on the last time I sent that email, delete “RE:” from the subject line and delete the reply headers. It’s pretty common on my team for folks to do that with even fairly long emails where some parts are updated each week but the other parts are copied word for word each week. It saves quite a bit of time not rewriting the same thing every week.

          1. Anonymous*

            So why is it ok to copy and paste that but not warm and fuzzy enough to say “ok”?

        2. Lily in NYC*

          I doubt people are upset with you. I have a coworker that I love to pieces who often sends me an “ok” email. I was taken aback the first time but she does it all the time so I realized very quickly that it was just her style and now it doesn’t bug me.

      2. Phyllis Barlow*

        If you live in the South, like me, “Got ‘er done!!” also works! :-)
        Of course this would only be to someone you have a relaxed working relationship with.

    3. Al Lo*

      I use “Thanks!”, “Sounds good” (in place of “okay”), and “Got it” (mostly to acknowledge instructions received) very frequently.

  10. College Career Counselor*

    Had a boss years ago who would respond to detailed emails with that kind of brevity. I would have been ok(!) with it, had it actually been useful information.

    CCC: “Boss, here’s the issue, the stakes, and the audience. Would you prefer X or Y in this instance?”

    Boss: “Yes.”

    CCC: “What the–?”

    1. LMW*

      I had this boss too! I’d send emails (because she was always in meetings and impossible to get on the phone).
      Me: We have this problem. Do you want me to use Option A or Option B?
      Her: Ok.
      Me: (Ripping out hair because this happens every single time.)

      And if I just asked for an ok on one option, she’d invariably write back suggesting I explore the other.

      1. Chinook*

        I have been known to email the boss who replies to those questions with “Ok is not an acceptable answer. Which would you prefer – x or y” but only after I brought up this frustration in a face to face meeting and he laughed at himself for doing it.

        1. Lindsay J*

          I would just ask “Yes to which?” or “Okay to which?”

          Usually he had skimmed my (two sentance!) email and missed one of the presented options.

          I learned pretty soon after that to send, “Hey, need your input. Drop by [when you get the chance/ASAP/sometime before Tuesday].”

  11. AdminAnon*

    I use “Ok,” “Done!,” and other one word responses ALL THE TIME, but I am an administrative assistant, so the majority of my emails are along the lines of “Please copy this,” “Please send so-and-so an invoice for $X, ” and other simple tasks that don’t require an elaborate response. I would not think twice about recieving an email like that and would certainly not read it as bitchy or condescending.

    1. Chinook*

      When I sent emails like “Please send so-and-so an invoice for $X, ” I learned to put those in the subject line followed by EOM. For those who didn’t know me, in the body of the email I would just type “EOM = End of message – no need to open the body of the email or respond. Thank you.” I actually had quite a few coworkers comment on its usefulness (and can see my infleunce spread throughout the company with those 3 letters :)

  12. Sabrina*

    I’m a pretty blunt and to the point person. I’m not being rude or curt, I’m getting out of your way while acknowledging your request. Stop reading into things. Good gravy.

      1. Sabrina*

        There’s no tone. Only frustration in overly sensitive people who assume tones when no tones exists.

        1. Meg*

          That’s exactly what a tone IS though. It’s a tone of frustration. And “good gravy” is a pretty pointed statement.

          While I agree that the poster is reading too much into one-word emails, she admits that she’s new to the workforce and unsure of certain things. When you’re new to office norms, they can take some getting used to, and it’s not unreasonable for her to ask the question.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          I agree with you 1000%. Work is hard enough without having to agonize over every exclamation mark. I used to be really concerned about the tone of my email, but early on in my career I just said F-it, it’s not worth the agony. People will overreact and be overly sensitive no matter what you do.

          As for the over-analyzers out there: take things at face value and save yourself the agony. Your life will significantly improve in and outside of work.

  13. Laura*

    I have heard many stories of employees worrying endlessly about a short response from a manager, that probably did not mean anything at all. Note to managers, please try to write a few additional words. You have some worry-wart employees and its not worth their time to worry that you are mad at them.

  14. BCW*

    This thread reminds me of the Seinfeld where Elaine gets mad at Jerry for not using exclamation points. I think if everyone assumed ignorance (of your personal tastes) instead of malice (they hate me), then this wouldn’t even need to be a thread.

    1. Marie*


      If everyone assumed ignorance instead of malice, the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “”Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”
      – Napoleon

      1. BCW*

        Even incompetence is a harsh word. Its really just that you may not know that Jane in marketing hates that you just respond ok, but doesn’t mind OK!

  15. Buses*

    We just end up using “10-4” to mean “message received and understood”.

    But then, we in the transportation business.

    1. Lindsay J*

      I do the same. My old boss did, too. (Amusement parks use a surprising number of radio codes.)

  16. Katie the Fed*

    Some people really are “Busy Professionals.”

    A lot of my emails are 2-3 words. Often, more words aren’t necessary:

    “No problem.”
    “Got it, thanks”
    “Great, thanks”

  17. NBB*

    Some people just aren’t great at conveying tone in written form. They can be the nicest people ever, but come across as short or rude in emails. I have learned to not take it personally.

    I try to come across as friendly and helpful in all my communications – it tends to make people feel better about interacting with you – and not hesitate to communicate with you.

    On the other hand, my boss writes every single email to me with one or more smiley faces. Occasional use of emoticons is fine, and even helpful at times, but all the time? SO ANNOYING. It seems condescending. Like, I am not 12 years old, you know?

  18. TBoT*

    Someone who used to report to me was a frequent user of the one-word “ok” email. The weird part was that it usually went 1. Longish question from her. 2. Thorough response from me. 3. “OK.”

    It always struck me as vaguely off, especially since it usually came on the heels of a longer conversation, but not so off that I felt the need to say anything about it.

    1. Layla*

      yeah i think that would be rude.

      to me – sometimes all i need is an ‘ok’ from the boss. i figure, if i get a few more words like ‘ok go ahead’ they are in a good mood.

      but if my boss took the time to craft a long response to me, any response should include a ‘thanks’ somewhere!

  19. Tiff*

    Was I the only person avoiding the response with my eyes, hoping that AAM’s reply would be: Ok?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      When I feel like I’m doing most of the lifting in any relationship – familial or otherwise – I back off a little. If I was getting terse responses to long, chatty emails, I’d stop sending long, chatty emails and opt for phone conversations instead.

      She can’t change her sister’s behavior, but she can change her own. If her sister’s responses bug her, then stop sending sis things to respond to.

      I’d also tell her to stop BCCing me on emails with mom. That’s unnecessary.

      1. Jessa*

        I would absolutely stop replying, admitting I got the bcc on the mom stuff. I’d just trash it and forget about it. I would absolutely refuse to get involved in it on EITHER side.

      2. CoffeeLover*


        I actually find it kind of weird that so many of you communicate with family over email. I have never communicated with family over email and I can’t imagine trying to have an argument over email. Point being, ya just call her instead.

    2. Ruffingit*

      There are many people who transfer work protocols to their relationships. My ex-husband used to tell me to stop “cross-examining” him sometimes. I was a lawyer at the time and I often used skills from my job in my relationships without even realizing it. And by the way, the reason for my divorce was not because I put him on trial all the time. LOL!

      So I can relate to the situation, but here’s the thing – treating people in your life like your employees/colleagues is going to cause problems. Sitting down with the sister and letting her know that you need something different from her will go a long way. And let me caution here as well that the talk needs to be specific. Don’t just say “Don’t try to manage me the way you do your employees…” That offers no useful information at all to the sister. Instead say “When you talk to me like you are my manager (give an example of this), it makes me feel condescended to/angry/irritated/whatever feeling applies. What I need from you is this…” And then give an example of how she might better phrase things or do things or what have you.

      Also, offer a ton of sympathy for what she’s going through at work. That will likely help.

      And just as a general note, tell her to stop bcc:ing you on heated emails with your mom. There is no need for you to join in whatever argument they are having. Let her know that you will not read such e-mails from her and that you have no interest in being in the middle of their issues or even knowing about it. They are grown-ups and need to handle their own stuff.

      1. LCL*

        I’m a lot more like the businesslike sister, and had to be told that people don’t like this mode for personal communications. So call your sister on the phone and talk to her. I am sure she doesn’t realize how much this is bugging you.

      2. the gold digger*

        I didn’t realize I had married into a family of BCC’ers. My husband doesn’t do it, but his mom and dad BCC everyone and his brother (literally – on the brother part, anyhow) whenever they send out any critical emails.

        So my husband knows exactly where they stand on his nephew’s troubles and his niece’s grammar and all kinds of things where he does not need to be involved.

        My husband’s half-brother BCC’d everyone when he told me I was a f’ing idiot who had never even been to Chappaquidick and never even MET Ted Kennedy so how dare I have an opinion blah blah blah. The email was bad enough but the fact that he BCC’d my husband and my husband’s parents on it was the last straw. I have not spoken to him since because I do not need to be treated like that.

        Not a fan of the BCC for personal stuff.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          BCCing is kind of shady, I think, unless it’s for positive things. I BCC people when I am saying something nice – like telling my boss how one of my employees did something awesome, or something along those lines. Otherwise it’s just kind of jerkish.

          1. Elaine*

            +1 BCC can come to bite you also–in our workplace, once an email is transferred into the archives, you can see ALL the recipients (BCC included). I casually mentioned that to my former boss who pettily BCC’d people in a passive-aggressive way. She was shocked.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I have seen some email programs where you can’t see the recipients but can see that there’s someone bcc’d. So my mental rule is I don’t bcc if I don’t want the other person to know I bcc’d. What this means is I mainly use it to blast to a big list of people, rather than to be sneaky.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          Wow on the part of your husband’s brother. Was the purpose of BCCing everyone on that hateful message to make sure his family knows he’s an a-hole? Hopefully, the email helped them understand exactly why you don’t speak with him anymore. The BCC worked in your favour this time?

    3. Liz*

      It definitely seems like he’s projecting his feelings about his sister onto this pretty normal use of “work jargon.” Sounds like they have some major communication issues.

      The writer says he’s “very new” to the workforce. Was that his choice? It sounds like there’s a bitterness towards professionals and workplace behavior that is maybe coming from feeling uncomfortable in a new environment. If this is his first office job, there can definitely be an adjustment period. That’s my 2-bit analysis!

    4. Bonnie*

      I’m not sure about the timing on all of this but I did wonder if the sister’s email habits and the OP’s feeling about those were coloring how they saw the work emails.

      I can’t imagine BCC family members on emails. I’m also having trouble imaging a HR like meeting with family members who have disappointed me. But it seems like sister doesn’t have any trouble letting people know what annoys her so the OP should sit down with the sister and do the same.

      1. Judy*

        One of my uncles will BCC everyone on an information email (“Betty’s surgery went well, she’s in recovery and we will be heading home in 2 hours or so.”) So then my mom forwards it to me and my sister. And one of the other aunts forwards it to all of the cousins. etc, etc. So I get 5 copies of the same email because it was BCCed.

  20. TL*

    I work in the sciences and short emails are the norm – one or two word emails are very common. Even in college, my professor’s emails were as short as possible – it wasn’t uncommon to get a response like:



    (signed with initials instead of the name)

    1. Rana*

      Heh. I’ve done that, though not with students. I have to admit that my signature (the one I type as opposed to the block I’ve got pre-stored) gets shorter and shorter the longer a correspondence goes on, or the more familiar I am with you.

      So new clients get


      ~~First MiddleInitial Last

      While established ones get



      And family and friends get



  21. Ruffingit*

    On the topic of e-mails, I would like to suggest actually reading the whole thing and answering any inquiries posed.

    I received an e-mail recently in response to one from someone asking me to submit documents they’d attached to the e-mail. I had already submitted those documents to this person (in person the previous week in fact) and I let them know that. I then asked about a separate document they had asked for the previous week and whether I should send that one to them.

    Their answer to my e-mail was “Oh sorry, I’ll check your file for those documents you already sent.” And that was it. No answer or mention of my question. That is SO frustrating!!

    I have also received e-mails in response to mine asking me for information that was already contained in the first e-mail. And I am not a person who hides info in e-mails so that it’s easily missed. In fact, I tend to do bullet point e-mails so it’s very clear that this is what you need to know and it’s hard to miss because it’s not just one long paragraph. So take away point here – Read the e-mail thoroughly before responding and asking for info already contained in the original e-mail.

    1. Felicia*

      That’s what bothers me about most of the professional emails I’ve got that said “Ok.” Ok didn’t make sense as a response to the email, and it made it obvious they didn’t read it. Same with a brief email that answered only part of your question. I don’t care how people answer my email as long as the answer makes sense in context and doesn’t just ignore parts of the email.

      1. Kerr*

        This. I tend to be incredibly sensitive to tone, but an “OK” wouldn’t particularly bother me, especially if it was just someone’s typical writing style. What would bother me: an “OK” response to an either/or question, or to something that really requires more than a one-word reply. It indicates to me that you didn’t actually read the e-mail, and that you’re not bothering to address any of the topics thoughtfully.

        In the OP’s case, it sounds like she was asking what was technically an either/or question (“Can I get the day off?”), but she would have appreciated the manager’s acknowledgement that they wouldn’t need her, that it *was* fine to take the day off. The manager probably wasn’t thinking about all that, and just answered the question, without “padding”.

        Personally, I always try to pad out a brief comment with something extra. “OK, thanks for letting me know” – or even “OK, thanks” – is much less curt.

    2. Bonnie*

      I work with individuals like this. They are not reading the entire email. They are only reading for what they are looking for. If I want to need to address and another issue it has to come first so that they have to read the question I have to get the answer to the question they asked. Although I think they are on to me now and are just skimming for their answer (skipping the first line to read the second where they now know I am hiding the answer to their question).

      1. Layla*

        this sort of thing causes excessive thoughts required on email phrasing etc!

        although i try not to spend too long thinking. considering how many emails i send a day.

    3. Nancypie*

      I’ve done this at least twice (asked for info that was contained was already in the original email). I blame my blackberry, which only downloads so much at a time. If there are multiple, forwarded emails attached, it’s easy to miss them. In both cases I was responding outside of regular business hours and apologized when I realized I had the information I needed.

  22. Andrew*

    As far as the sister goes, she’s probably not fully aware of how her work persona has overshadowed her normal self. This happened to me, and the only way I realized it was to be called on it. The OP–or her whole family–will probably have to have a blunt conversation where they tell the offending sister in no uncertain terms to cut it out. I don’t think subtlety will work.

    1. Lily*

      My work persona is still overshadowing my personal self. It is no longer so difficult to manage, but it isn’t habitual yet. I’m hoping once I automatically respond correctly at work, I will be able to make friends again at home.

  23. Bonnie*

    Before smart phones, I never got just an OK in response to an email. Now I get K as a response all the time or in the case of my boss who is a terrible typist L. I have become much less concerned about the meaning of the OK as it becomes more and more common as an acknowledging response. But I also think people read too much into a form a communication that is known for being unable to communicate tone well or at all. I sometimes find it exhausting re-reading and even re-writing emails multiple times in the hope that the recipient won’t see a tone that isn’t there.

    1. Kelly L.*

      “L,” I love it.

      I tried to text my boyfriend “Yup” once and it autocorrected to Zur. We decided that sounded like a Sumerian deity, and that said Sumerian deity had possessed my phone for some reason.

  24. KM*

    In the office where I work now, most people add a smiley face to messages that might come across as terse or rude otherwise. At first I thought it was weird, but then I got used to it. :)

  25. Cassie*

    I just got an email today from a coworker where my initial reaction was to reply “ok”. Instead, I wrote “yes, please proceed” or something like that. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to respond to the simplest emails.

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