how can I stop freaking out if I get a curt-sounding email?

A reader writes:

I’m definitely a relationship person at work and maintain a warm tone in my emails and most interactions with people. I know there are different work styles, but I really struggle with receiving curt-sounding emails. I worry that someone is mad at me or that I’ve done something wrong even when, most of the time, the person is just being direct about what they want and there are no actual issues with the work being done on my end.

I should say, that this hasn’t impacted my work product at all but I’m wondering if you have any advice on managing that “thrill” of panic I get when I receive a stern-sounding email — especially if there is no issue and it’s just how certain people communicate?

Yeah, what reads as efficient and straightforward to one person can easily read as curt and off-putting to someone else. And if terse-email-senders realized the reaction their terseness was producing on the other end, most of them would be horrified.

But you’re right to identify it as a difference in style, rather than as real information about that person’s feelings toward you.

The best way to ameliorate that panic reaction that is to be very deliberate about internalizing that this really is just a style difference. To do that:

* Remind yourself that this isn’t a situation where you’ve done anything wrong — and that if you had, the person would presumably explain that rather than just using a jerky tone with you. (Have you seen evidence that this person avoids direct conversations and instead just acts like a dick? If not, there’s no reason to assume they’re doing that here.)

* Think about previous times when you freaked out over the tone in an email and it turned out to be absolutely nothing. Also think about any times where it did turn out to be something and where the first warning you had was via a rude tone spontaneously showing up in an email with no other context to explain there was a problem; I bet those times are few to none. Keeping that lodged in your mind (“the last 15 times I feared this, it was nothing, and there was only once that it signaled a problem, and that was just because it was Mean Joe”).

Then, make a deliberate point of referring back to this evidence when you feel yourself worrying. Remember the last time you had that feeling and it turned out to be nothing, and that you know this person has a brusque style in emails but is always different in person, and so forth.

While brusquely written emails may always feel brusque to you, I do think you can train your brain not to take them personally, and to see them from a more objective distance. (Ideally you might even get yourself to the point where you can even be amused by it — as in, “Wow, Jane’s emails are weird!”)

{ 370 comments… read them below }

    1. EH

      I do this too! Or, if I know the person well enough, I imagine them saying the email to me in their normal voice. Most of the people I know who send that kind of email are pretty business-like/brusque in person, too. In email, the nonverbal cues that tell me they’re not mad/mean are missing in email, so I have to kind of restore them on my end. Eventually that “OH NOOOO” instant reaction will fade for the person, as long as I keep doing this. :) It never goes away for me, but it definitely eases up.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler

        I do this too for one particular co-worker. When we speak on the phone, we get along great, but her emails come across rather prickly to me, so I always try to read them in the voice she uses on the phone. It definitely helps.

      2. KR

        I do this so much. It helps that almost everyone I’ve met in my company is extremely nice most of the time. I think it also helps to remember that I might remember to be really nice and warm in my emails, but some people sound curt or short with me because they’re just firing the email off from their phone or maybe they’re not an effusive writer.

      3. Bostonian

        Yes! It helps when you know the person is warm/friendly/reasonable in person. There are a couple people on my team who are remote and known for terse/short/direct emails, but once I met them in person or talked to them on the phone for the first time, I was really surprised by how nice they were! It helps to remember their actual voice/tone when confronted with text that looks potentially rude but wasn’t meant to be.

    2. YarnOwl

      This is what I do exactly. I’ve worked in my office long enough that I know most of the folks I work with, and when I get a curt email I imagine the person saying it to me and it makes me feel better about it!

    3. CAA

      It seems really weird, but your own facial expression also affects your perception of what you’re reading. If you arrange your face in a “calm, open and interested” or even “slightly smiling” expression, then you will react more positively to the message, no matter how it’s phrased.

    4. Not a cat

      This is a great idea! So many people are “tone deaf ” when it comes to email. It’s hard not to take it personally but you should try not to.

  1. Free Meerkats

    Also take a look at the sender before you open the email. Is it someone like me who writes emails in a simple, direct, fact-based manner or is it CJ who writes 3 paragraphs of niceties and social lubricant before asking the question in the next 4 sentence paragraph that should have been a 6 word sentence.

    That way you’re ready for the brusquely written email.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar

      Seconding looking at the sender. I have a couple of coworkers whose emails almost always set my teeth on edge, and even the emails that aren’t bad have taken on a “bitch eating crackers” meme quality as a result. But I remind myself that my interactions with them in person are perfectly fine and that it’s just the way they email, so I try to focus solely on the content of the email and ignore the rest.

    2. Memyselfandi

      Yes, but my concern is that I normally take care to write friendly e-mails, and then when I dash off a quick one because I am in a rush I worry that the receiver will think I am mad. Please don’t tell me that is what emojis are for.

      1. Blue

        I feel like this is a good place for an exclamation mark. My boss will send one-liners when she’s in a rush but usually makes a point to close with “Thank you!” or “Thanks so much!” I am admittedly fairly comfortable with abrupt communications, but a bit of enthusiasm does tend to make it go over more smoothly, imo.

      2. Not Today Satan

        Hah, I definitely tend to write in a “to the point” style, so I tend to include smilies.. especially if I think the recipient is prone to misinterpreting my tone.

        1. Chickflix

          I use smileys too. I know they usually aren’t very professional, but if I’m writing an email about a problem I’m having I use a happy face to let the reader know that I’m not upset. I used to write things like “This isn’t a big deal” or actually say “I’m not really upset about this” but I had a few coworkers who would always assume the worst, and thought I was being sarcastic. I can get a little panicky too when reading curt emails so I always assume the person I’m sending a message to is the same way, and try to alleviate any stress.

    3. Blue

      Yes, I think this is generally good advice. There’s definitely a learning curve when taking a new job or working with new people where you have to figure out what each person’s normal “tone” is. I’m pretty direct in emails, myself, but I was still a bit wary of the brusque emails I received from a coworker at my newish job. He always responded to my replies enthusiastically, and I came to realize that his initial questions were genuine curiosity without any social cushioning, not demands that I justify myself. Keeping that in mind when I open his emails takes away the tinge of worry that harsh wording can cause (especially when it’s from a superior).

  2. Amber Rose

    When we read things, we assign random mental voices to them. You ever see someone say they read something in the voice of some actor? We give curt sounding emails harsh tones because if you were talking to them in person and they spoke that way, you might assume they were upset.

    Try imagining the email being read by the nicest person ever, like Mister Rogers. Or with the voice of the In A World guy. That always cheers me up.

    1. Catsaber

      My inner narrator is Alan Rickman. Emails always sound better when read by him – dramatic, but in a good way. :)

      1. Amber Rose

        Cary Elwes narrates for me a lot. He’s got the best dry tone I’ve ever heard.

        And of course, there’s always Morgan Freeman.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar

        I get all swoony when I hear Alan Rickman’s voice. He could have been on stage reading the phone book out loud, and I’d have paid money to listen. I think I’ll try this, Catsaber.

      3. Yorick

        I agree Alan Rickman had a great voice, but we shouldn’t read emails from colleagues in his voice, or they will for sure read as mad or annoyed.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood

      I think my afternoon emails will be in the voice of the “True Facts” series. Not sure if Ze Frank does the narration or does the production or “just” posts them to youtube…but my mind gives him the credit. And oh my that series is memorable.
      (Just preview each video before showing your soft-hearted grade-schooler. Trust me on this…ducks aren’t nice. That one is memorable in a bad way.)

      1. LawBee

        I love those videos so freaking much.

        Except for the duck one, omg. Also the frog one is kind of gross.

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I love this. It’s very “you’ve got mail” from the 90s. Mine was the voice of Barry White telling me “hey baby…where you been? You’ve got mail.” Hehehehehehe.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          Yeah, spam didn’t seem like such a bother back then. I sometimes miss the old AOL email days.

    4. Emma

      I’ve really enjoyed this comment thread, because I was reading along and variously agreeing and disagreeing, and then got to the examples and realised that the email tone Overton window was way off from where I thought it was!

      The emails that I got told were too terse were of the “Hi Name, Could you do x please? Thanks, Emma” variety. So I added more thankses and exclamation marks and occasional (ugh) emojis, until everyone got to know me well enough face to face that their brains filled in the tone of voice and body language, and suddenly they didn’t think I was being standoffish any more.

      Ironically, the manager who gave me this feedback did so in a meeting which she scheduled by email. The email said,

      “We’ll do your review at 2:30.”

      She’s my favorite person to email because I am, at heart, a horrifyingly direct person and so is she. Today I sent her an email which said “Hi, Client x no longer has a squiggle so I’ve taken the squiggle off the database but I didn’t take it off the spreadsheet in case you’re monitoring ex-squiggles”. I didn’t even sign it and she won’t take that as even slightly off. It’s amazing.

      I really do try to calibrate my email tone to the person I’m speaking to, and I’m generally good at that. But if I ever do misfire and send someone an email that’s more direct than they’re comfortable with, I’d want them to know that it’s because they’re in the category of “blessedly easy to work with” in my brain, and that just shortcircuited the systems that remind me to put appropriate effort into the communication!

    5. Someone Else

      Or frankly, Leonard Nimoy. If I suspect I’m reading tone where there probably was only just brevity, picture the statement coming to you from Spock.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz

        This is great! In the Imax theater at the Museum of Science in Boston, there’s a little introduction that’s narrated by Leonard Nimoy (“he grew up three blocks from here”). You haven’t lived until you’ve heard him say “Who put the bomp in the bomp she bomp she bomp? Who put the ram in the ram a lam a ding dong.”

  3. Emmie

    I am this email’s sender sometimes. I do not intend for emails to be perceived this way. I have a hard time finding a balance between curt, short, and upsetting to some verses too darn long and irritating to others. How do you manage the balance?

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Serious question, does it actually bother you to think that someone like OP might be actually upset – maybe even in tears! – over your email? The one person in my life who sends super terse emails would probably just figure the receiver needed to “toughen up” or something, and wouldn’t change :)

      1. AnonEMoose

        I’ve learned to include some of the social lubricant stuff in emails, although it’s not really my preference. If I learned that someone like OP was feeling upset over their perception of the “tone” of my email, I’d most likely feel bad because there’s a 99.9% chance I wasn’t intentionally being hurtful or terse – but I’d also be somewhat internally rolling my eyes.

        Because: it’s work. We’re not there to be besties, we’re there to do a job. Being polite/reasonably pleasant and cordial to each other makes that easier and more pleasant for both of us…but it’s not, ultimately, why we’re there.

        Full disclosure: people on the extreme end of relationship-oriented at work can annoy me a bit. I’m more task-oriented, and to me they can come across as needy and over-sensitive. Of course, I also get annoyed with the extreme end of the task-oriented, because that does tend to create other issues.

        I’m sure I come across to the more relationship-oriented as brusque and impatient at times (like when I’m trying to deal with 20 things at once and they want to chat before getting to the point). And I do feel like there’s an unspoken expectation that I should go out of my way to accommodate their preferred style…but there isn’t a reciprocal expectation that they should be understanding of mine. I do think there’s a gender component to that…I’m a woman, so “supposed” to be nice and understanding and all of that.

        1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

          This. This. This. This.

          It actually annoys me to no end that if I don’t put a smiley face in my emails, someone is going to think I’m some kind of bitch. I shouldn’t have to ask you for something like you’re a preschooler and I’m your teacher. We’re colleagues. “Please do this thing, thanks” should be sufficient.

          1. Sloan Kittering

            “Please do this thing, thanks” sounds okay to me. The terse emailer in my life would say “X is due on Friday.” No address at all, no signoff, no please, no thanks! And he would say he’s just being efficient and if I choose to get upset that’s my weird thing :P

            1. Observer

              Is he a pain in the neck to work with over all?

              “Please do this thing. thanks” may come of as curt to some people, but it DOES meet basic courtesy standards. “X is due on Friday.” does not. And, it’s not even more efficient, because it’s not any shorter than the first. Seriously.

            2. Close Bracket

              It’s not that you are choosing to be upset. It’s that you are choosing to see his email as unfriendly, and that makes you upset. You could choose to see his email as efficient.

              1. Observer

                Except that it’s really not true. I mean, Sloan could choose anything, but the emailer is really not being honest in claiming that he’s “just being efficient.” He’s not. It’s like the people who are rude because they are “just being honest.” You can be both efficient and honest without being rude most of the time.

          2. RUKidding

            Yup. My emails tend to be something like:

            “Dear M. Poster,
            Per our discussion on the 24th I am sending you the shipping cost information for teapot exports to Ulanbataar.

            Please find the file sttached (.pdf). If you have further questions, please email me back ASAP so that I can move forward with the order.

            Respectfully,
            RUK”

            Or some such thing. Too terse? I think it sounds businesslike and to the point. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            1. Coffee Bean

              Mine are basically the same as yours.

              Probably even shorter, as instead of saying If you have further questions, please email me back ASAP so that I can move forward with the order. I usually just end it with a Let me know of any questions or concerns.

              I do also start and end all emails as:
              Good Morning/Afternoon X,

              [blah]

              Warm Regards / Thank you / Thank you for all you do! ,
              Coffee Bean

              I hope those signatures soften any briskness throughout the email. “Respectfully” is professional, so I don’t think you are necessarily wrong there. I just find Good Days and Thanks as common niceties used to soften emails.

              1. RUKidding

                I sometimes, but not often do “good morning…” because IDK fir certain when they are reading it.

                Yeah, I know I wrote it in the morning or whatever, but there’s just something about when they are reading that keeps me from doing that. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

                I rarely use “!” because to me those are to draw attention. “Thank you” doesnt seem overly major…unless it actually is an anove and beyond thing.

                My misanthropy keeps me from “warmly,” but I can handle “respectfully/sincerely” as the minimal social type thing.

                I always, always do a salutation though.

                Source: HS letter writing class c. the dark ages.

                1. Airy

                  I think the exclamation point after thank you carries an implication of sincerity, not just politeness. You might say thank you just to be polite in a calm or neutral tone, whereas when you’re genuinely pleased and grateful you tend to put a little more oomph into your voice. This works well in business-casual emails yet would read as inappropriate in a formal message about something particularly serious.

            2. Quackeen

              Do you have a different conversational style with internal colleagues? If Joe from down the hall started his emails with “Per our conversation on the 24th”, I’d probably feel that he was being unnecessarily formal, but your work culture may vary.

          3. Hellary

            Resting email face, sounds like! I’ve definitely got that! in spite of my Thank you’s! at the end….it’s very gendered, on both ends (as in it’s mostly other women who tend to have problems with my short and straightforward). And it annoys me no end that I feel like I’m always expected to adjust to their style, but I never see so much as a thought of adjusting to mine…..

            1. Sloan Kittering

              This whole article is about adjusting to the terse email style when that’s not your natural style.

              1. AnonEMoose

                True. But I haven’t seen it “in the wild,” so to speak. At least I personally haven’t. Usually in my experience the “terse” emailer gets told that they need to soften their communication style and be more understanding and approachable and so on…

                And I get it. But some days, it just…gets…old.

            2. RUKidding

              I think it is gendered in that the same way as women are taken to task for “not being friendly enough” in person while males aren’t, it is treated likewise in email, IM, etc.

              1. Pingüina

                Former curt emailer here! Also female!
                I super agree with all of this… and then I got promoted to manage a team of 4 (now 6) who used to be my colleagues. I already had a leg up on on them (longest serving employee on the team, with the highest title even prior to management promotion) and I found out very fast that curt emails do not fly when you’re someone’s manager and you’re very different than their super hands-off-wait-three-months-and-then-point-out-a-pattern-of-errors ex-manager who, oh, happens to be male. Folks were blowing things wildly out of proportion and it was preventing my credibility and trust with them. So I got grumpy about the ways this was gendered and then resolved to be a less curt emailer. Honestly, it didn’t take me that long to get in the habit of adding one short nicety to any email that might surprise or redirect someone and 9+ months later the lines of communication have been restored.
                But yeah, I’m still grumpy that perceived curtness and being female are clearly correlated.

          4. Not Today Satan

            I’ve known people who think that “Please do X” is rude. Incidentally, they’re the same people who think “Could you please do x?” means I’m asking them if they feel a personal desire to do the task I’ve assigned them.

            1. RUKidding

              I never say “can” or “will” etc. you X because of the inherent request thing. I will more likely say “I need you to do X, thanks.”

              Sometimes I throw in a “please” because it worked well with my son. Ex: Alexander pkease clean your room by dinner time tonight. Thank you.” He never mistook it for a request.

              My staff seems ok with how I word things both in email and in person and I’ve never heard any negative feedback from clients or vendors, so fingers crossed…I’m not making anyone have bad feels.

          5. Ugh

            THIS. So much. Old Job had managers who believed in the whole “make nice so people can do the jobs they were hired to do” while I was more about being task-oriented and getting things done. I was told to “sound nicer” in emails because I was too direct. Didn’t know “Hi Jane, What is the status on those blue teapots?” was considered rude when we’ve been ordering blue teapot from Jane’s company for years. Apparently I should’ve been asking Jane about her day/commenting on the weather prior to asking about the blue teapots.

        2. ISuckAtUserNames

          Yes, this. So much this.

          I try to pad my emails appropriately, but if I’m trying to get you an answer to your question in among 2o other high-priority things, you’re getting it straight and to the point. I’m not mad, I promise.

        3. Margaery Moth

          Yessssss! I really think there needs to be more understanding on the other end. I’m a “curt” emailer, and it’s like…I have ADHD and those page-long emails sent from “relationship” work people are genuinely painful and difficult for me. The idea that someone would be in tears because I said “Yes, thanks so much” to a long question is just baffling and frustrating, especially since I’m always polite just very direct. As you said, if a man communicated like this it would be no issue at all.

      2. LQ

        It absolutely does bother me. In part because I’m not out to hurt people. In part because I know that hurting people makes us all less effective at helping people (public service). In part because it means I’m not doing a good job communicating. In part because I hurt someone (which is different slightly from I’m not out to hurt someone).

        Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I never think someone needs to toughen up (ok likely not that, but some similar enough sentiment that it would be mistakable and I could be your person). But that’s deeply unlikely to actual help. Even for people who are in a job where they need to be tough, they don’t need to take an extra assault from me, even if it wasn’t intentional. If there is a way we can be more on the same page (I’m never going to try to hurt someone at work. Even the people who piss me off to the depths of my being I’m not trying to hurt.) Or a way we can come to an understanding where you don’t need to take a second to be…is LQ pissed or just LQ, then we’ve just communicated better. Yeah, it would bother me.

        And yeah, after I had someone stop me and ask if I was mad at her because I didn’t smile at her as much, which, for the record is super bullshitty, I went, eh. I can try to smile more at work because I don’t mean to hurt the people I’m working with, and if one random person did it, I’m sure someone else is feeling it too. Does it make me annoyed in my private moments that I can’t be myself at work? (I’d physically moved so she just saw more of me being me and less of me performing) Of course it does. But at the end of the day I have a job to do and sometimes that means I have to smile in the halls or add a ! to my Thanks! so that people don’t get hurt. I guess I’ve decided that I’m more easily able to change me than them. Does it suck to recognize that who I am is not acceptable to enough people that I am required to change to do my job effectively? Yes. And I wish people who get hurt over a terse email would get that too, but that doesn’t change that I want to do my job and not hurt people. So…I smile. I Thanks!

        1. Karlee

          100%. I find it exhausting and when I’m tired I’m more likely to be terse or unsmiling and get feedback that I’m too abrupt, intimidating, short, disengaged…. I wish people would give the benefit of the doubt and maybe they do more than I realize. Mostly I work to package myself in a way that makes me more likable – but my internal dialog is something like this: “They asked me how I am. Smile. Ask them how they are. Act like you’re interested. Soften your voice….” And yeah – no-one knows that I’m really not interested in the personal lives of most of my colleagues because that would be so poorly received. So I fake it.

          1. LQ

            Package myself in a way that makes me work likable. Yup. That’s absolutely where I’m at. I wish it weren’t so. And yes, it absolutely makes me feel bad about myself because apparently Me isn’t likable enough. But at the end of the day I want to do the work I want to do and I don’t think that fighting other people the whole way through will be better. I’m not a good fighter.

          2. CanadaTag

            Oof, yes.

            Admittedly, I got what I call “basic politeness” (good morning/day/evening/whatever, please, thank you, you’re welcome, etc.) trained into me from a young age – one thing my parents were firm about was that their children would know how to be polite, and it sticks – but I’m also autistic, and my “resting face” has the edges of my mouth turned down, and my face is not terribly expressive in any case, unless I’m feeling a strong emotion. Plus I’m a natural introvert. So yes, I so get the exhaustion, exponentially so!

            1. LQ

              I lean hard into politeness in a lot of places, but it’s often insufficient. I can please/thank you/you’re welcome with the best of em but…There’s a whole other series of unwritten social rules that someone should really codify for the rest of us.

            2. Margaery Moth

              Same here. I’m very good at the socially ingrained nicesties (which is how my diagnosis came so late), but I have “resting bitch face” like no one’s business and there’s really not much I can do about that. It’s so exhausting; now I’m working on switching careers and learning not to care.

      3. Close Bracket

        > does it actually bother you to think that someone like OP might be actually upset – maybe even in tears! – over your email?

        No. Like Alison, I recognize that they are in charge of their own reaction. It’s not so much that they need to toughen up, it’s that they have choices about how to take a terse email, and they are responsible for the choice they make.

    2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

      If the email is a request to the other person, I find that a simple “Thanks!” at the end does wonders to soften tone. The exclamation point makes all the difference, at least in my head.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        This is what I came to say. When I read the letter, I interpretted curt to mean without typical politeness.
        Karma
        Find and send me the PDF of last year’s final version
        Percival
        vs
        Hi Karma
        Please find and send me the PDF of last year’s version
        thanks
        Not Percival cuz he’s a jagoff.

        The first one pisses me off, but I don’t take it personally. I just think Percival is a jagoff.
        Is there some topic that makes OP think it’s a personal attack?

      2. EH

        Yes! Ending a sentence with a period gives very little information about tone of voice, so I try to have at least the greeting or signoff be exclamation-pointed. Also, I try to always reply with “Thanks!” when someone sends me the info/file I was asking for. That can be an office-culture-specific thing, though. Some places/people don’t like it.

        1. Jules the 3rd

          It can read immature in more formal offices, or from a younger person. I’m pretty cautious with my exclamation points. I tend to use ‘slightly more words’ instead.

          I have my salutations baked into my email template, so that I have the basic politenesses, at least, without needing to spend extra time typing, “Thank you, Jules the 3rd”. If it’s a thank you note and I already have thank you in the text, it’s easy to change that to ‘Sincerely’.

          1. Amber T

            This – it really depends on the office and culture. The head of my company will chat your ear off (in the nicest way possible) if you let him, but he’s known for sending short, curt emails. As are most people in my company. I used to be like OP – I’d get nervous and worried and upset when I got a super short email asking/telling me to do something. But that’s the way our company rolls. Unless it’s a quick back and forth, I usually still start with “Hi Person,” and end with “Thanks, Amber,” but sometimes I don’t and I’ve gotten used to it when other don’t either.

      3. CC

        There’s been studies about this that millennials/younger people are much more likely to use exclamation points. That’s one way I deal with apparently curt sounding emails, I think “Oh, this person is in there mid-60s, they don’t have that norm of exclaiming everything.” It helps a bit.

      4. Blue

        I agree and noted this elsewhere, actually. I think you have to be judicious in your exclamation mark usage, but I think this is a great place for it. My efforts at “softening” my emails come down to: 1) concluding with a “Thank you!” and 2) sticking in an opening sentence that covers my social niceties. That one’s definitely a deliberate effort on my part to make a concession to the relationship-oriented people. I write the email the way I’d like to, then remind myself to add a sentence before I hit send. Seems to walk the line fairly well.

        1. Turquoisecow

          If I feel like I’ve been bothering someone a lot recently (either with questions or tasks), I might end an email with Thanks! or even Thank you! or occasionally Thank you so much! although the last one sounds over the top to me.

          If it’s someone I send an email to on like a rare occasion, I just sign it “Thanks, Cow,” and all is fine. But if I’m asking them for something out of the ordinary I might go a little more overboard.

        2. Me too

          Are you me?! I would also literally write the actual point of the email and go back up top to add in “Hope all is well” or something about the weather etc.

          It’s gotten to the point where I’ve even learned to skip the first line of emails that I receive and get to the point of what people are truly asking!

    3. Heat's Kitchen

      I can also be the person who is too direct in my emails. I’ve specific gotten feedback that I’m “Too Direct” (I’m also a woman, not sure if that plays a role or not. I tend to think it does.). I used to be very lengthy, writing out every little detail, but realized I was wasting everyone’s time justifying myself so got to the point.

      I’ve recently started utilizing the TL;DR format. I put a brief description and whatever action needs to happen at the top with “TL;DR”, and possibly highlighting/bolding depending on the email. Below, I go into more detail. That way, someone can get the whole picture if they want to read it, or just read the one sentence important stuff. I’ve gotten pretty good feedback on it so far.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Are you actually saying TL;DR ?
        I hadn’t encountered the abbreviation tl;dr until last fall, so I just use the phrase “”the short version”, and refer to “the detailed version” below.

        1. Amber Rose

          I’ve been using the teal deer since the early 2000’s, but then I am a child of the internet. I wouldn’t do it at work though. Maybe it’s influence by my boss but I avoid acronyms as much as possible because not everyone understands them, and that just derails things.

          1. MizShrew

            Agreed on avoiding the acronyms at work whenever possible. I work with a variety of clients, each of whom have their own set of industry-specific acronyms and abbreviations. While “TL,DR” is pretty commonly understood, depending on the industry ANY abbreviation could mean something you don’t intend.

          2. LQ

            I work with someone who once put a gif of a teal deer into an absurdly long email. It made my day, it was just to me and they were sure I’d get it.

        1. EmKay

          Yes! I’ve been spreading that article far and wide to my French speaking colleagues who are still mastering written English. The long, flowery French sentence structures but written with English words drives me a particular kind of nuts.

        2. Indigo a la mode

          That’s what we use. I’ve always liked it. (I don’t work for a military org, but the company is veteran-owned and both my boss and I are veterans.)

      2. Jules the 3rd

        I use ‘Summary’ and ‘Background’ instead of TL;DR, but I find that the format below has really improved the response rates, especially speed. I base it on the whole journalist lead format:

        Summary:
        Short sentence or bullet list with the actions needed

        Background:
        One or two paragraphs on why we need you to Do The Thing

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I have gotten in trouble for both writing emails that are too long (and thus a waste of time to read) and emails that are too short (and thus too direct and rude.)

        Because my uterus is apparently a psychic divining rod that can tell exactly what other people think and feel about the content of an email on a particular subject.

    4. Matilda Jefferies

      I think you can go a long way by including social niceties like a greeting and a closing, and sometimes using questions instead of statements. Which you may or may not be doing already, of course! But check out the difference in the following:

      ~~~
      Matilda,

      Please have the TPS reports to me by Friday.

      Emmie
      ~~~

      vs
      Hi Matilda,

      Can you please have the TPS reports to me by Friday?

      Thanks,
      Emmie

      ~~~
      The content is exactly the same, but do you see how the second one feels gentler? It doesn’t take any longer to write, but it can go a long way for people like the OP (and me!) who would read the first one and freak out thinking you were mad at us.

      1. Rhymes with Mitochondria

        It’s NOT exactly the same, though. The second is a question, the first is an instruction. I don’t see anything wrong with the first one at all. Emmie doesn’t need to ask her employees to do anything.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.

          Yes, I’m in complete support of social niceties and simple politeness and I feel the first one hits the mark. Please is enough for me.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          She does if she wants to run her team like a respectful human and have warm relationships with the people on it (in other words, if she wants to be a good manager).

          1. OlympiasEpiriot

            But, then if she was sending this to me, I’d be a little bit annoyed she was being so tentative in the second case. I know it’s my job and don’t need to be cajoled into it. I mean, this is *work* and a reminder or a deadline is simple.

            1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

              I think that depends on the role then. In my job I report directly to three different people, and on any given day one of them could ask me to do something after I’m already swamped with tasks for the other two. Being asked to complete a task gives me the opportunity to say “actually I already have two deadlines today, how urgent is this?” and then we can discuss priority from there.

              1. OlympiasEpiriot

                At my job, I actually don’t have a specific boss — we’re a kinda free-floating, owing-allegiance-to-many-lords, partnership here. I *just* received an e-mail sent to several people with multi-pronged logistics and in the line directed to me was the simple question “Can you fit this in?”

                I mean, if there’s lots of directions for work to come from, I’d assume that, niceties or not, everyone should be checking on people’s capacity to slot the work in, no?

                1. Jules the 3rd

                  Ah, but in this case, it’s a real question: Does this task fit your workload? I’d use a question there, or if we’re collaborating to come up with the project time line.

                  But when I’m reminding people of deadlines that are already set, I never put it as a question.

              1. OlympiasEpiriot

                Yeah, like the other comments pointed out, it is person-specific. If the person was always writing a salutation, request, closing then it wouldn’t. It would be that person’s style. 99% of in-house e-mails I actually get don’t have that more than the sender’s name at the bottom which is frequently an auto-fill signature.

                Realistically, I always look to see who is sending. Our “HR” person is excessively flowery (lots of “kind reminders”, etc.) for example.

              2. Close Bracket

                But OlympiasEpiriot *isn’t* annoyed by a single sentence, a salutation, and a closing. They are annoyed by the tentative nature of the question format. I find it annoying, too. If every request starts with “Can you?” how am I supposed to distinguish between true requests and directions?

            2. Birch

              It’s just a respectful way to acknowledge that you are an autonomous human being and not a mindless robot slave. A lot of people don’t enjoy being ordered around all the time and prefer that acknowledgment. It also gives you the opportunity to say that no, you are able to get the reports done by Friday and the deadline will need to be moved, or that you can get them done earlier–it’s also a check-in.

          2. JSPA

            Frankly, the direct version is much less open to cultural / linguistic / Neuro -type / cluelessness- based misinterpretation. If you really need them Friday, non- negotiable, you ask for that.

            If you want to be extra cordial, you can add “sorry for the short notice” or “due to changing circumstances, I’ll need…” or “a gentle reminder” or “just heard from Josh, the project’s back on track full steam ahead” or whatever context is appropriate.

            If it’s not quite so pressing, then give a sense of the priority.

        3. Matilda Jefferies

          Of course she doesn’t *need* to, but a lot of people respond better to being asked to do something rather than being told. And since the question was specifically about how to soften things up in emails, this is one way to go about it.

          1. TechWorker

            I also have to be careful not to go overboard the other way, like ‘it would be really useful if you can do x’ when I actually mean ‘please do x’. I guess ‘can you please do x’ is a middle ground haha.

        4. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

          Eh, being commanded to do something makes me feel too much like a cog in the machine and faintly touches the center of my brain that whispers “you’re not my mom.”

          1. Jules the 3rd

            hmmm – taking these into consideration, especially since I work with people from non-US countries, where more social interaction is the norm. I always take the time to pass ‘how are you’ back and forth, but I don’t ask if someone can do a deadline, since ours are often repetitive.

            But I have noticed that if I don’t send the reminder, it doesn’t happen or it happens late. Ideally, I wouldn’t need to send it, that would be great.

            1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

              Yeah, it’s probably different when it’s a reminder of something they should already know. My role doesn’t involve many – if any – recurring deadlines so I can’t speak to emails like those.

            2. Blue

              Definitely agreed on the deadline reminders, but I hate the phrase “gentle reminder” with the fire of a thousand suns. I tend toward something like, “Just wanted to touch base on this since we’re closing in on Jan. 31 deadline. Please let me know if you have any questions or problems.” I have to tread somewhat lightly since my reminders mostly go to people above me in the hierarchy, but it feels way less deferential than the “gentle reminder” route.

              1. Indigo a la mode

                At my company, we use “Just wanted to check in on this.” It’s genius. It can mean anything from “Hey, it’s been a couple days since I sent this, did you see it?” to “For the love of god, stop ignoring me and freaking answer the question already,” and since it always sounds polite, how it comes across depends on the guilt of the receiver, haha.

                “Gentle reminder” almost always sounds like the sender is one step away from smashing their laptop over your head in frustration.

            3. Turquoisecow

              Yeah in this case I’d probably right something like

              FYI the TPS reports are due Thursday. Let me know if you have any questions or need help.

              Thanks,
              Cow

              (Assuming that I am the boss in this situation.)

          2. Engineer Girl

            But that’s about your feelings and emotions isn’t it? And your feelings and emotions are yours to manage.

            If the email is polite and respectful then that is enough.

            We all have days we feel like the cog. Welcome to the adult working world! But a boss telling you to do something is so very, very normal. And that person isn’t your mom, so they can fire you.

            Let pragmatism win.

            1. Indigo a la mode

              I’m a very pragmatic and logical person, but there are a lot of times where the pragmatic and logical thing to do is apply the tiniest bit of effort into social lubrication so that everyone gets along well. That isn’t coddling or inappropriate feelings management, it’s Good Interactions 101, which is necessary for good business.

              And often, terse and curt emails do not come across as polite and respectful.

              1. Engineer Girl

                But good interactions 101 is to assume goodwill unless otherwise indicated. So we take things at face value.

        5. Observer

          What Allison says.

          And, if this is a colleague / peer rather than a subordinate, there is also the issue that people often react very poorly to their peers ordering them to do things.

      2. MechanicalPencil

        I work with an outside contractor who does very niche work and who I very much don’t want to irritate. My social lubricant is often just a one sentence throwaway about the weather or weekend or whatever. Then I dive into “hey, I need these TPS reports ASAP please. Hope you stay warm/dry/cool!”

      3. Lurker

        I think I am on the task-oriented end of communication. (It’s more efficient to just get to the point!) But I do try to use social niceties in emails because I realize there is more room for misunderstanding tone, etc. The issue I have found with using the second version in your example is that I have a co-worker (Miss Unhelpful) who will literally take it as an optional request, rather than a rhetorical, nicely-phrased statement. Even for someone like myself, who can be pretty blunt, it’s been an adjustment for me to write,

        Hi Miss Unhelpful,
        I need you to please send me the TPS reports by end of day Friday.
        Thanks,
        Lurker

        rather than my usual, “Could you please send me…?” I used to do the latter but I wouldn’t get what I needed from her. I finally discussed it (along with several other issues) with our mutual boss and was told that I have to be more direct in my communications with her.

      4. Rachael

        I agree with using a couple of words to set a good tone. I am a short email typer and it is hard for me at first pass to send an email that is warm (I like to be direct). Now, what I do is type out what I need. Then, I go back and read it real quick and add:

        “Hi ,
        I hope you are doing well.

        I appreciate the help/flexibility/etc!
        -Sincerely,

        I thought all of this was wasted time, but then I had the opportunity to exchange emails with some people working in India and I was charmed by how they phrase their emails. So warm, but to the point. It does go a long way. People are more likely to, not only fulfill my request, but to come to me when they need things (as well as be available in the future). It has done wonders for relationship building.

      5. Someone Else

        I’d argue the only real differences needed in this example are the Hi and the Thanks fore terseness-removal.

    5. WellRed

      Hi Emmie! Would you mind getting me the TPS report by Friday instead of Thursday? Thanks so much!

        1. Doodle

          I think you are taking literally social niceties? That’s just a polite form. My boss uses please and thank you, would you mind, could you please …. even when she wants me to do something and I really cannot say no. I would be pretty ruffled not to get that please and thank you. Because the social niceties are acknowledging that I’m a person and a valuable employee.

          Non-optional social convention…

          1. JSPA

            Problem is, they’re not actually universal. And they shift: what one group uses “straight,” another uses ironically, or to express some other subtext.

            1. Doodle

              Really? I think please, thank you, and the other examples I give are pretty universal polite terms in the work place. Of course tone makes a difference, but let’s assume a straightforward tone: using a non-ironic tone, “Get me the report by Friday” and “Could you please get me the report by Friday?” are clearly different in how polite they are. And even more so in an email, where there aren’t any nonverbals.

              1. MayLou

                The difficulty is that if you’re neuro-divergent in a way that leads you to take things more literally than is common, “Could you please get me the report” may be recognised as more polite than “Get me the report”, because it contains the word please, but it also sounds more tentative. Once a neuro-diverse person has learnt that “Could you” sometimes actually means “Do this, but I’m sounding uncertain about it for a reason you don’t fully understand”, it’s no longer possible to trust all the other rules about politeness and meaning that have to be learned for people who don’t come by that understanding intuitively.

                I think one of the reasons I’m good with children and good at teaching is that I find this stuff just hard enough that I have to carefully think about it, discuss it with people I have recognised as being more socially adept than me, and learn the rules, and also find it interesting enough to contemplate it and experiment with it, but I also have the capacity to understand it sufficiently that I can communicate it to others. When things come naturally to a person, that person isn’t always as good at helping those who can’t do it naturally learn how.

                … I feel like I’ve written a lot and said very little.

    6. Auburn

      You don’t need to qualify everything, just a social nicety or two can go a long way. If you can start with something like “Good Morning” or end with “Thanks!” Say please and thank you when making requests if you’re the boss. That kind of thing.

      You’d be amazed at the effect that one well-placed exclamation point can have in an otherwise very brief and direct email. Don’t end every sentence with one or anything. Just, “Thanks!” at the end can change the tone of the whole thing. I don’t bother a lot when I’m communicating with peers but with the people who report to me, I make the extra effort. One thing I’ve learned over years of managing people is that when you’re the boss people very often read neutral statements as critical.

    7. Rainbow Roses

      I’m someone who keeps it short and simple but throw in “please” and “thank you” to soften it up.

    8. Wendy Darling

      I am this email sender when I am for some reason emailing from my phone. I don’t mean to be curt but I hate doing entire sentences on a phone keyboard and I’m generally in a giant hurry (otherwise I’d not be emailing from my phone), and setting my phone mail client signature to “sent from my phone, sorry I sound like an asshole” is unprofessional.

      Any time I get a super-blunt 2-sentence email that signs off “sent from my iPhone” I assume that’s what’s up, though.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Good point! My otherwise not-terse supervisor would send short one word replies to things that used to twig me sometimes – until I noticed this pattern! He was terse when he was checking from his phone because he got more autocorrect typos the longer he went on :)

      2. Observer

        Actually, a lot of people DO put “sent from my phone” or something like that in their auto-responder, just to give people that context. I don’t think it’s unprofessional at all.

        1. Indigo a la mode

          Some people in my org who are often on the road have a mobile signature along the lines of “Sent from iPhone, please excuse typos and brevity.” It helps a lot, I’ve found.

    9. Narvo Flieboppen

      Yup, this me also. Here’s a sample of one of my emails which was identified as a problem:

      Hi Wakeen,

      I got the PO but I didn’t seen the invoice attached, could you please send up a copy so I can make the payment?

      Thanks,

      Narvo

      I spoke to my wife about it, since she works in a professional environment and often tones down her boss’s emails. She described my message above as unconscionably rude. Her suggestion was that I take 5 minutes per email to think about it before sending. Upon further discussion, we hit upon the crux of the problem – she sends roughly 60 emails per week. I send about 60 per day. On a busy day that goes into triple digits, with my personal record being 180 emails in one day. If I took 5 minutes per email, I wouldn’t get anything else done, basically ever.

      My emails are straight and to the point because I don’t have forever to work in a bunch of niceties to make someone feel warm & fuzzy about a straight up business transaction. And when I’m dealing with the same kinds of issues from 20 other people simultaneously, each recipient is seeing only 1 tiny piece of what I am dealing with at any given point.

      Some people take my requests for a missing document or more detailed info as a personal judgment of their entire existence. It really isn’t, I just can’t do my job unless you do yours. And without a mountain of evidence, I assume you made an oopsie and didn’t purposely undermine me by not giving me everything up front. Trying to sum all of that up in the roughly 30 seconds I have to devote to each recipient’s specific issue just seems to escape me. If anyone has advice on how to fix that, I’d love to hear it.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        I… I don’t see it. I think that’s plenty warm and fuzzy! There’s a “please” and a “hi” and a “thanks”. It’s not, “Was there supposed to be an attachment?” or “What attachment?”, both of which I’ve received, nor is it, “How am I supposed to do this if you don’t attach the invoice?” which is what someone I know once wrote and I wanted so badly to chew him out for it. I mean, people forget to attach things, it’s human. Sometimes I will say, “I think you forgot the attachment” with a smiley face, but no one has ever felt anything other than slight embarrassment and said, “Oops, sorry!” Which is also how I feel and what I do when someone informs me I forgot to attach something.

        1. misslucy21

          I usually say something like that- “It looks like the attachment didn’t come through, can you resend?” is my typical go-to. So, no, I don’t think that’s rude at all.

          Of course, I’m also the person who realizes they didn’t attach the attachment as soon as I hit send at least once a month, so there are often emails from me with the attachment saying something like “attachments are useful sometimes”, so I cut people a fair amount of slack on missing attachments.

      2. Lurker

        I also see nothing wrong with this email. Polite, but direct and to the point. Would definitely not categorize as rude. :shrug:

      3. Not So NewReader

        Wow. I’d love to hear what your wife thought that email should have said.
        I am all for niceties, but I think I would be a duck out of water in an environment like your wife is talking about.

      4. biobotb

        Your email seems to strike the perfect balance to me — polite yet brief. What was considered rude about it?

      5. Kiwi

        Chuck “I hope you’re having a good day” at the start of the email before you get to the missing invoice. This takes a few seconds more to type and makes an enormous difference to how friendly the email sounds.

      6. Close Bracket

        > She described my message above as unconscionably rude.

        Are you effing kidding me? You said hi, please, and thanks. What more is there to be said about needing an invoice? If people have a problem with this, including your wife, it’s a them problem.

      7. londonedit

        I’m British, we are all about politeness and not wanting to cause offence, and that seems polite to me!

        If you’d said ‘Wakeen. There was no invoice attached. Resend.’ then yes, I would say that was a little rude. But your email was fine! You said hi, you said please and thank you, you didn’t accuse Wakeen of anything.

      8. Narvo Flieboppen

        Thanks everyone for the follow up!

        My VP (my boss’s boss) is the one who underscored the above example as rude. When I asked for help, he told me “if you don’t see what’s rude about it, then I can’t help you.” I’ve had a lot of complaints here over the years about emails like the one above being rude.

        I feel better, honestly, about my own perspective after reading this thread and delving into the AAM archives. I am just going to start looking for a different place with a culture where my ‘hello/please/thanks’ type of emails are more acceptable.

    10. sfigato

      Yeah, my emails are getting shorter and curter. I either agonize for a million hours about the right thing to say, or I send a two sentence email with JUST the info I need the person to know.

    11. Doodle

      Dear X [or, Hello Team!}, Just a heads up on/Here’s the update I promised about/ Please put on your calendar/ Just a quick reminder that I need your report on /[*very* short polite or friendly alert] the teapot smashing ceremony. [Insert clear, to the point, short as possible / appropriate details]. Thanks! Doodle

      Little social niceties, like a friendly salutation and closing with thanks, smoothes things out.

  4. Sloan Kittering

    I feel ya, OP! I know I can overly sensitive and have an emotional reaction to things that aren’t really personal, especially when I was younger. I realized I needed to get more comfortable in general with the idea that sometimes in the work world, people might be annoyed with me or impatient in my direction. Now that I’m older, I find I can live with it – I just think, “I’m doing my best over here, I’m only human, this job is complicated and sometimes mistakes happen” (or “sometimes people get upset.”). As a result of this, those terse emails bother me less, whether or not the person is actually upset. I just don’t need everybody’s approbation the way I did when I first started out in the work world. So some of this may just take time and practice.

    1. KWu

      I like this point a lot! It seems to me a fundamental underpinning is the “I worry that someone is mad at me or that I’ve done something wrong” part–are those situations really so terrible to be in proportion to your reactions? People will be mad at you sometimes. You will make mistakes some times. You are still a person worthy of taking up space.

      1. Ama

        This is a fair point — some of the people who send scolding emails my way at work are people with a reputation for being prickly (to the extent that I can walk into my boss’s office and say “I got an email from Wakeen” and she’ll sigh in anticipation of the complaint I’m about to pass on). And while we certainly take a moment to make sure our prickliest correspondents aren’t alerting us to a legitimate issue, if Wakeen is going to be upset because we scheduled a meeting with 100+ invitees on a day they aren’t available or expressly complains about how much we’re asking of him and then in the next email complains that we asked someone else to speak at an event, we all just roll our eyes, figure out how best to respond without escalating things and move on.

        1. Not So NewReader

          “Oh, you want to speak at the meeting you can’t go to? Shall I put you in the category of ‘And Not Speaking Today Will Be Wakeen’?”

    2. KR

      I love this point because I used to struggle with the same thing and be scared that someone would be mad at me if I kept having to bug them for help on a bunch of stuff. Both my therapist and my coworkers have helped to remind me that I have a responsibility to myself my manager and my team to get my work done and if the other person is a little prickly to deal with, it doesn’t really matter because it’s their job to help me and collaborate with me.

  5. PlainJane

    One thing to keep in mind: sometimes people send terse emails because they’re responding to a question in the three minutes they have before their next meeting, and they don’t want you to have to wait for the information. I’ve done this too many times. Ideally I would always take the time to craft a careful response, but sometimes that means the response will have to wait till 6 PM. It’s a not-fun tradeoff.

  6. SarahKay

    OP, you have my sympathy. Some years ago I was doing work for someone who, honestly, I think just hated typing. As a result, his emails were very, very short and to the point. On top of that, no-one had told him that using all capitals in an email was ‘shouting’ – which meant I’d suggest something I could do and would get back an email saying “NO SARAHKAY, COLLEAGUE X SHOULD DO THAT.”
    What helped me was meeting him in person and discovering he was actually a lovely easy-going person, who just didn’t like computers very much. Once I knew that, it was much easier to just be amused by his emails, rather than very daunted indeed.

    1. Amber T

      Oh I love the random shouters that don’t know when they’re shouting. I used to work with someone on and off who seemed to have their cap locks permanently on, but was also quite wordy!

      “HI AMBER. THANKS FOR THE CALL AND EXPLAINING X – IT WAS GREAT CATCHING UP. I’LL HAVE THIS READY FOR YOU BY MONDAY. IN THE MEANTIME, HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND! :)

      THX,
      BOB”

      Always made me chuckle imagining a little old man just screaming niceties.

      1. Ralkana

        The program we use to do everything except email requires everything in all caps. Many many many of my coworkers don’t turn their capslock off when emailing. My inbox is full of threads of coworkers shouting at each other. I hate it so much!

      2. Not So NewReader

        Why don’t people know that all caps is harder to read?
        Maybe they are thinking of the olden days when telegrams were all caps.

      3. Quandong

        One of my bosses used to send newsletters and emails to hundreds of people. In all caps. Every time.

        He was a couple of years older than me (so, didn’t grow up sending emails but has spent all his working life using email). Apparently nobody ever told him that all caps was yelling? I thought he was joking when I brought this up after watching him edit yet another screamy (but cheerful!) message.

    2. LawBee

      There’s a local attorney who I think needs to up his reading glasses magnification – all of his emails to me are in this huge font and all caps. He’s also a total jerk, and after getting a stream of pissy emails that felt like actual attacks (on a multiple-person email conversation) I’d had enough, and replied “Name, here is what you wanted. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your huge font is not you screaming at me from across the river.”

      It worked, at least in that email chain. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with him that often.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I worked with a woman who asked me, specifically, to email her the scheduling we discussed, in 24 point font so she could read it.

        I later found out she’d had a series of small strokes and was losing her close vision as well as her memory.

        1. MayLou

          I can understand the request, but in the spirit of teaching a man to fish, I think I’d have shown her how to set up her monitor so that everything was larger. Sometimes the wrong solution is worse than no solution!

  7. WMM

    Question from the opposite perspective: are some people’s succinct emails a passive aggressive (or otherwise? i guess?) indication that they *are* upset with me?

      1. WMM

        Well, OP thinks that succinct emails might indicate that someone is upset with her enough that she has a physical reaction when she reads them. That makes me wonder if some people who share that perspective actually *use* succinct/curt emails to indicate to someone they are upset. If this is true, it would completely go over my head, and I would consider it a passive aggressive way to get a point across. So: do people actually do that?

        1. Observer

          Yeah, but to be honest, their reaction is a bit over the top. So much so that my first though in reading this letter was to wonder if they deal with anxiety or people pleasing tendencies in general. Certainly enough that I really don’t think that it’s a reflection of how people actually communicate.

          1. Doodle

            If I want to express pissed offenders, i strip out all the politeness:

            Fergus.
            Send the TPS report immediately.

            1. misslucy21

              You can tell how irritated I am in email because I stop using contractions and get extremely formal. Otherwise, even if it’s short and I forgot to put in something social-like, I’m probably not actually upset, my fingers are just working quicker than the social cues center of my brain can keep up.

        2. ChachkisGalore

          Not quite the same, but I once had a manager who was probably the most extreme relationship oriented person I’ve come across in a professional setting. I’m definitely a task oriented person, but I don’t think I fall quite as far to the end of the spectrum as she did. We clashed quite a bit (obviously – and I admit I did not handle the situation well). In her mind, giving someone the silent treatment was the cruelest form of punishment, so when she was particularly upset with me she would give me the silent treatment. Except for me, those times were bliss – I felt like I could actually could get work done or get information from her that I needed from her (she would basically do the bare minimum of professional communication).

          So do I think people actually do that? Yes. However I think its rare, and definitely a sign of immaturity/poor interpersonal skills. I think the only time it might be slightly reasonable to worry that someone is being succinct/curt to indicate that they are upset is if it is a very noticeable and extreme difference from their typical communication style. Even then – there’s loads of other reasons for the difference (emailing from a phone, in a major rush, hit send before finishing, etc.), so I still wouldn’t freak out, but at least I’d get where that concern is coming from.

        3. Someone Else

          If someone is usually chock full of flowery (or even not flowery but just verbose) language and you suddenly get something short and monosyllabic, which, depending on tone-you-cannot-hear-because-it’s-written might sound angry I would guesstimate the person is:
          A) Rushing
          B) Upset, but not at you
          C) Upset at you

          But if you can’t think of an obvious reason why it should be C, assume A or B until proven otherwise.

          1. Someone Else

            But if the person is almost always brief, then it’s none of the above and that’s just their style.

        4. Not So NewReader

          A tangent thought, OP, when the physical discomfort sets in, tell yourself that you refuse to wear some else’s upset for them. This cuts to the chase in that you spend zero time figuring out if they are mad at you or not. You notice tenseness in your body and you quickly move to, “No I will not carry or wear your upset for you.”
          You may have to say this in several different instance before you start to feel the idea taking hold.
          Perhaps the first thing you will notice is that you decide to re-read and find out what they actually want from you. This is a great practical step to breaking the intimidation going on.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

        I’ve been pulled up on this by my boss who received feedback that my email was curt and my boss’s immediate reaction was that I was being passive aggressive.
        Note, all I did was miss off “Hi” at the beginning. This was also to a coworker who *routinely* leaves off a greeting. But when I do it…?

    1. Blue Eagle

      No, they aren’t upset with you. They are trying to communicate information succinctly.
      People – please stop taking work e-mails so personally. They are work e-mails to communicate information and are appropriately of a different tone than the e-mails you send/receive with your friends and relatives.

      1. Engineer Girl

        And don’t add any emotions to it.

        How many times has AAM received a question from people asking “What does this email really mean?” or “Should I be offended by this email?” Almost all of the responses are “”take it literally the way it is written”.

        People! Stop adding your emotions to the email!

      2. WMM

        That was the point of my question. It would never have occurred to me to read into things like that, and I wanted to know if it was ever actually intended that way.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I think this could be true if an email ran along the lines of
      “As stated in the email below, which I believe you received on Monday, the document will be completed per the deadline stated in the kickoff meeting.”
      So yeah, if you get an email like this, you may have pissed off somebody.

      1. bonkerballs

        Yeah, there was a meme going around for a while that “per my email” is just office speak for “bitch, can’t you read????”

        1. The Original K.

          My phrase in that instance is “as discussed.” “As discussed on [date], the website will be updated blah blibbety bloop.” It’s my way of saying “I did in fact do the thing you’re suggesting I did not do, and here are the receipts.”

        2. aelle

          Well, how would you otherwise answer an email that calls for a “per my email” reply, though? I don’t (always) mean to be grating when I write this, but I need to establish I’m not pulling the fact / decision out of nowhere, and the best source for your background information, decision process and decision makers is in fact the original email.

    3. EH

      IME, people think way less about us than we think they do. The odds that they are writing in a particular way because they’re angry specifically at you are astronomically tiny. Furthermore: if they have a problem with you, they should tell you! If they don’t have the chutzpah to speak up about whatever you did, their emotions about it are their issue, NOT yours.

      I have that same “oh god, what if they’re mad at me, I have to fix it RIGHT NOW” impulse, and on the very rare occasions that the person actually was mad (literally…. I think twice ever in my 12 years in my field? both at a toxic af company), there wasn’t anything I could have done better.

      I try to be affable and helpful and do my job as well as I can, and that has helped me calm myself a bit when that “oh god!” moment hits. That and therapy. :)

    4. Amber T

      Honestly – sometimes. I do get frustrated by needlessly wordy emails that say “Could you please do X? I need it because Y… (+ long explanation).” Sometimes I think “do you think I don’t know how to do my job?”

      1. Spencer Hastings

        Is it possible that those people think that what they’re asking for is a favor, or that it will cause significant inconvenience, or something like that? I’m a direct emailer at heart, but whether something is a routine request or some sort of special consideration tends to have a major effect on my tone and level of explaining myself.

    5. Mockingjay

      It’s not personal, it’s business.

      I send very succinct emails with very little softening language. My subject lines make it very clear what I need and when. I do this because the recipients get tons of emails daily and I need mine to stand out. In fact, most of the project and team leads request communications to be BLUF – bottom line up front. I have a high response rate, so this style works for me and our organization (we’re affiliated with the military, so BLUF is a mantra).

      Also, I tend to view email as a mini-business letter. We have to retain a lot emails for audits, so it makes sense to keep them short and on topic.

      Note: I do send informal emails for quick stuff with my immediate team members. I’m not quite a robot. :)

      1. Auburn

        When you have a shared common work culture (i.e. The Military) which sets clear expectations about norms and where the work culture is strong and well established enough to bridge all the other cultural divides these situations don’t really spring up they way they do if you are working in an org with a weaker organizational culture. When you are managing across differences in an organization without defined communication norms email and written communication, in general, is much trickier.

        I used to have a pretty homogonous team. We were mostly white women in our 30’s-40’s. We all had very similar communication styles. Then I did a big diversity push in hiring. We’re now a multicultural/multiethnic team that spans 3 generations. Our oldest team member is 61, our youngest is 23. We’ve got more men on the team now. And we’ve got people who speak 4 different languages as first languages. So I learned pretty quickly that we had to set much clearer expectations around what I expected communication to look like in a way I never had to when we were all much more similar. The organizational culture had to get stronger to bridge the personal cultural differences.

    6. Frozen Ginger

      I confess, I sometimes do it. Not because I want to signal that I’m upset with you, but just because I’ve reached my emotional bandwidth for the day and I just can’t be bothered to put social lubricant into this email.

      I think it was mentioned up thread, but even if someone is being passive aggressively terse, chalk it up to them having a bad day and it not being you specifically.

    7. fposte

      I think that’s the same perspective as the OP’s, really, and in both cases, I’d say assume it’s an informational email and not an indication of emotion, and that if they are angry for you for an actionable reason, you’ll be informed of that specifically.

    8. EmKay

      They can be. It’s easier to tell if you know the person and interact with them regularly. There’s a manager I work with, I can tell if she’s in a good or a bad mood depending how her emails are written. It’s interesting, to say the least.

  8. Ladylike

    I know a lot of people are skeptical of (or downright despise) behavioral assessments like DiSC, but it helped me tremendously. I’m also a relationship-oriented person, and earlier in my career, it would always seem personal to me when people weren’t as warm as I was. After years of incorporating those concepts, I can now identify someone’s preferred behavioral style pretty quickly upon interacting with them, and make some general assumptions about how they will likely communicate with me. Then, when someone is curt or blunt, I don’t take it personally. I chalk it up to their preferred behavioral style.

    1. Cassandra

      I think people here drag on personality assessments, which can be a slightly different animal from behavioral assessments.

      Understanding your own and others’ behavior patterns can actually be pretty helpful, as you’ve noticed!

  9. HarvestKaleSlaw

    Yeah, that thrill of panic is fun. I go directly from, “Hey, remind me what you did with that project?” to “Oh my God they are asking because I made a huge error on that project that will bankrupt the company and I’ll be fired and unemployable and my children will starve and I’ll be dead of cancer by fifty because I won’t have health insurance.” –And that’s when people are using a nice tone.

    Good times.

      1. Robot With Human Hair

        Me too. Gah. And I prefer to communicate via email instead of the phone, so you can imagine how often I encounter this.

  10. Smith

    This situation can be hardest for me when my usual way of communicating with the person is only by email or other text. It really helps to be able to counterbalance a curt email tone with memories of a person being warm, enthusiastic, or even just awkward in person. One of the best things that happened in one of my projects was meeting a key contributor at an office holiday party. She went out of her way to be friendly and told me about her history with the project (which predated mine). Now, I can read the gruffest-sounding comment from her, and my “eek!” reaction is almost instantly overwhelmed with my impression that she really cares about the project.

  11. OlympiasEpiriot

    “And if terse-email-senders realized the reaction their terseness was producing on the other end, most of them would be horrified.”

    As a generally efficient, straightforward e-mailer, I am not horrified when someone gets shocked at my “terseness”, I internally roll my eyes and I file that away about the person involved and remember that I have to handle them with (relatively) kid gloves. This means a lot more work for me from my perspective.

    I know that many, many people who come to this site seem to be extremely “relationship-oriented” to what reads like the detriment of clarity; but, I follow the Navy e-mailing methods (see the link in my username for an HBR article about it) at work and I ALSO consider myself relationship-oriented…I want a good working relationship in which they trust me to Get Things Done or to Be Direct and not dance around an issue making everyone uncomfortable. My work e-mails are general dry but — I think — courteous.

    I’m another who says for yourself, please first look at who is sending it. Also, try and have phone calls or in-person conversations with all these people occasionally so you can “hear” their voice behind the e-mail. Depending on the environment you work in this might be more or less difficult.

    1. Rhymes with Mitochondria

      Yeah, I have definitely seen people who use “relationship oriented” to mean “manage my self esteem for me, please” and it is asking your coworkers to do emotional labor for you. I don’t think that’s the only way to be be relationship oriented. I’d much rather have coworkers who do their job reliably, don’t hold up the office workflow, and are honest than coworkers who put their effort into making sure their emails are warm and full of niceties.
      Both are definitely good things. But if I only get one, warm emails isn’t what’s going to make a good relationship.

      1. Engineer Girl

        This. And how can the sender proactively write an email to correspond to the receivers unknown emotions?

        1. President Porpoise

          Doubly irritating – when the receiver apparently believes that your terseness/bluntness/stating your opinions makes you borderline insubordinate and goes to your grandboss over it – rather than being direct back at you to let you know that they perceive a problem. Deeply irritating and blindsiding, if you’re just being direct and straightforward about what you believe needs to be done.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot

        I like warm e-mails from my friends, especially when they include travel schedules around plans we have together.

        Work? I’ll take clear and respectful on both sides and run with it!

      3. Margaery Moth

        Exactly. It’s a lot of work and it’s exhausting for me to coddle “relationship oriented” coworkers. Why is their poor self-esteem more important than my work output? Ugh. I’m not impolite (always use “hello,” please,” and “thank you,” but I’m very direct, and as a woman, that can be a problem.

    2. aelle

      I’m glad I’m not the only one. Utilitarian emails are the standard in my company, and I like it this way. We have the occasional team member who think emails that are to-the-point mean they are in trouble, who then need a lot of reassurance and handholding, and it can honestly be a really problematic fit issue. It doesn’t mean that we are a cold and uncaring company culture – just that we treat emails as efficient information delivery devices, while in person and phone interactions are where we build relationships.

    3. TeryGent

      I have been subject to the “you need be more friendly” reviews – my current and former states of residence don’t quite appreciate my North Jersey-ness. I am definitely not one to waste words when I have work to get done. You ask for a report, I send you the report in an email that says,” Bob, Attached is the report you requested.” and usually just sign my (internal) emails “M.” Heck, if it is a super busy day and Bob asks for x report, Ill just reply with the report attached and maybe say ” See Attached –M”
      If Bob needs the report gift wrapped in pleasantries, I’d want to stab my eyes out.

      1. Originally From NYC

        +3

        It’s usually not Bob who would want the gift wrapping but Barbara. I say usually because I know (few!) males who like gift wrapping.

  12. Rhymes with Mitochondria

    I once got an email just as I was leaving. It simply said “Is the deadline for (project) Thursday or Friday?”
    I replied “Friday 9 am” and left work.
    Got a lecture and instructions on how to do the “compliment sandwich” the next day because whiny man was mad I added the time when he didn’t ask about that and complained I was a witch-with-another-letter.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot

      Oh. Good. Grief.

      Ya see???!?! THIS is the kind of thing that makes me roll my eyes. I’d have been pleased with your response. Maybe I had forgotten to confirm the time, but, in any case, I got quick, succinct confirmation.

      And adding the “complement sandwich” to that would be a time-waster.

      1. irene adler

        Hear ! Hear!

        I email for information. Period. I like short, sweet, and to the point. Straight, no chaser.

        I am not interested in any ‘feelgoods’ you might need via my email. Find another avenue for your warm fuzzies please.

      1. The Original K.

        “You used a question mark correctly. Friday 9 AM. You didn’t eat anything smelly for lunch today.”

    2. pleaset

      “Got a lecture and instructions on how to do the “compliment sandwich” the next day because whiny man was mad”

      The guy is a loser, and if it was a different person doing the lecturing they suck too.

    3. Argh!

      …. because as a woman it’s your duty to make everyone feel good about themselves and to make sure all your communication signals doubt about your own competence.

    4. Engineer Girl

      Oh, I’ve seen this happen so.many.times.

      It gets worse if you tell them “no” for any reason, even if their request is illegal or will break something.

      You know what is ironic about your answer? It is that Friday at 9 am could very well mean Thursday if you are coming in late on Friday. Or it could mean that he was granted a few more hours to clean things up if he wanted to stay late.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I had this happen! My job was in safety and risk management, and I got in trouble for saying “no” too much.

        “Why are you always saying no? You’re so negative! Why don’t you ever say yes to anything?”

        “Why yes, I think it’s a fabulous idea to leave 120 children to be supervised by 3 teenagers who are not permitted bathroom or meal breaks. That’s definitely not a violation of the health code for the stated activity, our internal operations manual, our insurance policy, our state childcare license, and state labor law!”

        1. Originally From NYC

          “I would love to say yes, but according to the health code, the state labor law, our internal ops manual, our insurance policy, and our state childcare license, we will have to deny this request. Would it be possible to add additional supervisors to the team to ensure that the children are properly supervised according to the above documents?”

      2. OlympiasEpiriot

        YES!

        Like if I had a doctor appointment for Friday morning, it would be a blessing to know that I can’t stroll in at 9:30, do a last once-over for typos and turn it in at 10 and all’s good.

    5. Risha

      Oh, what the hecking heck! That’s literally a more useful answer than either “Thursday” or “Friday” would have been!

      1. Rhymes with Mitochondria

        Or
        Your have nice eyes
        Noted
        Your handwriting is quite legible.

        Your reports are always well proofread
        I’ll keep that in mind
        Nice shoes.

        Gee, your hair smells terrific
        I think I have this technique down
        I like your fountain pen.

        This technique could become quite therapeutic.

    6. Not So NewReader

      I can tell just from this story this is a dude who has problems meeting deadlines and doing quality work.
      It’s amazing how the slackers identify themselves for us.

  13. V

    I have been very reactive to work email, and my therapist suggested I just notice how I feel and then move on to my next step without trying to solve the feeling. Sounds wild, but it worked for me. “Oh, this email has me feeling freaked out. Ok. Moving on.”

    Alison’s advice on how to reconnect with reality around a given email is great too. Mostly email is not an attack even when it feels that way.

      1. Someone On-Line

        There is a great book by Russ Harris called the Happiness Trap which discusses just accepting feelings and thoughts and learning to flow with them rather than solving them. I highly recommend.

    1. Jules the 3rd

      Mindfulness, it’s awesome. Taking a deep breath can help you break the physical reaction and move on.

    2. Not So NewReader

      Emotions themselves are not wrong.
      It’s when we act on those emotions that the problems start.
      Additionally, denying the emotion seems to make the emotion grow bigger.
      “No, I will not freak out. No, I am not freaking out.” Then the hands start shaking. ugh.

      Others have mentioned that people are not responsible for how we feel. And the hardest part is us facing our own emotions “alone”, as in “yep, I am getting pretty tense here.” But in that moment of acknowledging the tension we can break that tension’s stranglehold on us. It’s very odd how this works, but if a person keeps doing it, acknowledging the emotion, the emotion can shrink down.

  14. Bend & Snap

    My team’s motto is “assume positive intent.” So I always assume something is positive until I have a reason to think otherwise.

    That did not stop me from sending a curt email that stopped just short of “piss off” to someone who has been bothering me today. But most of the time, just take things at face value.

    1. Amber T

      99% of my emails are short but are with good intent. The rare times I want to sound… not thrilled? Annoyed? – I write it with an annoyed voice in my head, but I’m fairly certain it reads the same.

      (This morning I responded to a vendor who’s clearly jerking our chain for *reasons* and while we can’t really call them out on it, I hope my email had an air of “dude, wtf?” to it, although it probably didn’t.)

    2. Not So NewReader

      It’s my mantra for life. “Put it in the best light possible and move on.” Doing less is really self-defeating.

  15. Tuesday

    Oh man, I feel this, especially when emailing people from other countries. I have to ask myself, “are they mad, or just German?”

    1. Birch

      Uuuugh I really don’t want to derail on the typical “is this person rude or is it cultural differences” schtick but also I feel you. But in the flavor of “are they passive aggressive, or just British?”

      The only way to cope, IMO, is to take everything only at face value–facts only– and not read anything into it. Which is so hard.

      1. Tuesday

        Yeah I mean I think the difference is that when someone is *actually* being rude, you will know it. You’re right that it’s best just to take people at their word, even if that word is curt.

      2. Amey

        Ha, I was going to respond to the question above (‘are people who send curt emails actually sometimes mad at me’) and was slightly surprised by Alison’s response because they TOTALLY are sometimes in my workplace, and then I read this and remembered that I work in Britain (and with a load of academics whatsmore)…

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Oh, yeah, just based on reading Jane Smiley and Richard Russo novels, I would assume academics are always pissed off at you and signaling it in passive-aggressive ways.

      3. TechWorker

        There’s definitely cultural differences between the U.K. and the US around how enthusiastic people are (expected to be..?). We work with/for a huge US company and when people (esp senior people but tbh it’s often some junior people too) leave they send a really flowery email about how sad they are to be leaving the (company) family and they’re excited for wherever their journey takes them next etc with lots of waffle. Someone from my company sent one basically as a joke & the gist was ‘if it’s on the edge and you’re wondering whether it might be sarcastic, it’s sarcastic’. I would say the same is probably true for passive aggressive :p

        1. aelle

          Very true. I’m not from the US and using exclamation marks in my email is so unnatural to me because I am not a bubbly person. I am warm AND calm. My smooth jazz voice does not lend itself to lots of !!! In fact, if I use exclamation marks, it’s more likely to be a sign of anger than of enthusiasm (except that I do my best not to send angry emails).

    2. Need a Beach

      ESL is a huge aspect of this, excellent point! I don’t speak Chinese nearly as well as my contacts in Tianjin speak English, so I need to stay mindful of the fact that they are dealing with getting me data promptly across a 12-hour time difference. Ain’t nobody got time for worrying about tone in that situation.

    3. LawLady

      But it can go the other direction too! I was staffed on a project with Spanish and French lawyers for a couple of months and even their IMs were formal and verbose. Whereas I would write “hey Marco, can you send me the x document when you’re done?” they’d write “Dear Ms. LawLady, I hope this email finds you well. I will be sending the x as soon as we’ve completed it. Sending my best wishes, Marco”

      I think on the brusque to flowery scale, Americans on average are terse but not the most brusque. (Obviously there’s huge variation.)

      1. Tuesday

        Oh, yes, definitely. I work with people all over the world and I do a lot of code-switching, I suppose. I write casually and enthusiastically with Americans, a bit more flowery/romantic(?) with French and Italian speakers, and much more formally with pretty much everyone else.

        It goes both ways where people who prefer formality will be put off by first names and exclamation marks, and vice versa.

    4. ChachkisGalore

      True story. I am process oriented. I wasn’t sure what to do with my career – I had a degree in psychology, and figured I’d end up in social work or non-profit work. I was doing temp work and got a longish term assignment at a German bank (office in the states, but staffed primarily by German residents who would do 6 months stints in the US office).

      It was literally life changing. Immediately I was just like “these are my people”. I thought it was the industry so now I work in finance (and love it!). In hindsight, it was partially the industry but also, I think immediate “click” came from the German folks I worked with. I will forever be grateful to German professional norms for leading me to the perfect career path.

    5. Elle Kay

      This is what I was going to say! I have a number of Eastern European’s in my office and the emails are so curt-as-to-be-actually-rude but a lot of it is language styles and english as a second language stuff.

  16. Asenath

    I write lots and lots of emails. I soften them a little with “please” and “thank-you”. I’ve discovered by experience that I get a better response if my emails are very, very short – and, ideally, one question/request per email. Most of the people I send them to are very busy and probably reading them on their phone and sending a one word (or maybe one short sentence response). They don’t want to read much in the way of explanations. If I need something that’s going to take more than a short email, I need to attach a document they can read later, or, better yet, corner them for a personal meeting.

    Now, a co-worker did tell me once that some of my emails were “very direct”, and it wasn’t a compliment. She wasn’t someone who received them; she was going through the files to get an idea of what I did in what circumstances when she was just starting. Those were generally not the routine ones, but ones in which I was following up on stuff that was at/past deadlines following many reminders, often using many methods of communication. I didn’t consider them direct, but I did tone them down – a bit.

    I think (aside from the nagging ones that speak of great frustration) I tend to prefer short, clear communication. I don’t know if that makes me not relationship-oriented.

  17. Mbarr

    I definitely fall on the “curt” side of emails. It goes back to my days as a Tech Writer – in my opinion, when sending informational/instructional emails, adding niceties just complicates things and people are more apt to skip over them or not read them through!

    I get how some people think it’s being terse, but to me, it’s being straightforward. My sign off (in my signature) is “Cheers,” but that’s usually it. My director even teases me that my communications usually lack “please” because again, it’s adding extra words. (E.g. “Please click here to reset your password” vs. “Click here to reset your password.”)

    And I find this funny, because I *AM* an outgoing social person at work… Just not over email.

    1. The New Wanderer

      Interesting. For your example, I would say that’s not a good use of “Please” in any case. “Please” is for when you’re asking a favor or softening an order. You don’t need it for an instruction. Otherwise instruction manuals would read like fancy invitations.

      Incidentally, I got a welcome back message from a colleague. It read, in its entirety,
      “Dear TNW,
      Welcome back.
      [signed] Colleague.”

    2. Not So NewReader

      Every time I see “Cheers”, I think “But we aren’t clinking our wine glasses here…”.
      I guess it matters how one first encounters an expression.

  18. Delta Delta

    I’m a lawyer. I make sentences like this: noun-verb-punctuation. That’s because that’s how lawyers write. Not everyone appreciates that.

    I sent this email to a client’s therapist one day:

    Veronica,
    Please let me know what days Fergus attended his sessions.
    Thanks,
    Delta Delta

    Well. You’d have thought I asked her to barbecue a kitten with this request. She told me she felt like my email was so rude that it was like I was cross examining her (no way, sister. You’ll know when I’m cross examining you.) Yes, I skipped a lot of niceties. But it didn’t feel like I needed to do that, as my request was simple and could have been answered in less than 1 sentence.

    I’m also dealing with someone who is offended that I signed an email “Delta Delta” when I had previously signed emails to her “DD.” This is a new one for me.

    1. LaDeeDa

      This is an awesome example of understanding how people like to be communicated with. If she were your direct report or your leader I would say add in “Hope this finds you well! ….” and ending with “Thank you so much!” But for someone who isn’t your colleague or direct report, there isn’t much you can or should do about that.

      1. Jules the 3rd

        wow. I read DD’s email as perfectly professional and polite. The requirement is so short and transactional that it would be weird to me to see ‘Hope this finds you well’ or other ‘relationship building’ introductory sentence. I wouldn’t be offended, but I would notice, and I’d probably make sure I included relationship building verbage in my reply and future notes.

        A lot of it, for me, is reading the cues of the sender and trying to match them while still staying short.

        1. Amber T

          Yup, and I’m going to assume DD would have been thrilled with a response like “3 sessions – 12/10, 12/17, 12/24” (assuming that’s all the information you need).

        2. LaDeeDa

          Jules — “A lot of it, for me, is reading the cues of the sender and trying to match them while still staying short.” that is great, and exactly what someone should do. DD’s example is so weird because this isn’t a colleague, direct report, or leader… but an outside contact. So weird!!

      1. Delta Delta

        It’s someone I’ve known for a long time and who I know takes things like that personally. I signed it that way knowing she is likely to forward my email to her client, and I wanted to keep it professional-looking. Her response was stiff, and signed “Best,” which is basically the f-u of lawyer email sign-offs in my area. But she and I go back and forth being mad at each other for years at a time, so I’m pretty sure she’s mad about this. Lawyers can be so unhealthy. (Yes, I mean both of us)

    2. TootsNYC

      sometimes I think people in your shoes really should just say, “This is silly–you are overreacting.”

      Instead of trying to take them seriously, or trying to placate them, as though they might have a point.

  19. Rezia

    I had a boss who was in a managing role for the first time and used to send really curt emails. His team spent a lot of time trying to decipher them and figure out if he was mad. And then all of a sudden one day he started sending emails that ended with “Thank you!” and using exclamation marks. Clearly someone said something to him about his email style.
    I was glad for the change but really, my takeaway was realizing that my boss hadn’t changed, and so I really shouldn’t take a couple of exclamation marks (or lack thereof) that seriously.

    1. boo bot

      Oh, I do the exclamation point thing! (see?) I honestly don’t particularly like doing it, as it feels kind of like I’m saying, “Look! I’m nonthreatening!” which as a lady-person feels kind of icky, but I think it’s really more about putting something into a brief communication that signals: “I mean you no harm.” Basically, I see it as the more-professional version of using smiley-face emoji for the same purpose.

      1. Frozen Ginger

        Same. I also do it in person too. Always end every conversation with an upbeat “Thanks!” I don’t even know why…

    2. Not So NewReader

      I had a boss who put TY on handwritten notes. I must have been at BEC level, because I thought “for all the work we do for this place you can’t expend the energy to write out the words ‘thank you’?”
      OTH, it could have been that he was not much on saying please and thank you anyway. And he was really good at getting upset over obscure things that would take days for us to figure out what the upset was.

  20. LaDeeDa

    I think one of the best self-awareness tools we can benefit from is understanding our communication style, and what we like (want/desire) in communications. Once we really understand the way we like to communicate, it is then understanding how others communicate. This has helped me in “managing up” more than anything else I’ve learned in my career. It has also helped me to not take things personally.
    The other thing I try to remind myself of is that most often people’s intentions are good. They usually aren’t out to get me, they aren’t out to upset me, they aren’t out to mess up a project, or keep something from me, their intent is good- we are working towards a common goal (usually!). If I start to feel upset by a communication or action, I try to stop and remind myself they have good intentions and then ask myself what is driving this communication or action.

  21. kait

    My boss had to ask me to stop communicating over Slack because I just wrote very efficient, operational messages about issues in my work and he kept freaking out that I was yelling at him. As a remote worker, he and I only spoke face to face for 30 minutes a week, so this effectively meant he wanted to stop our communication.

    I tried to point out that the beauty of an email or a Slack message is that it is *literally not* someone yelling at you. It is *literally not* someone being curt to your face. Think of what someone yelling at you is – a Slack message is not that.

    It remains to be seen if he’s taken that on board. We have a corporate value of “assuming positive intent” which I think is a good place to start.

    1. Becky

      I mean, I’ve apologized for yelling in Slack…but that’s because I had accidentally turned on caps lick.

      1. The Original K.

        Ha – me too! And the funniest thing is, it was in a channel about fun things going on in the neighborhood where our office was, so it was like “[BOUTIQUE GYM DOWN THE BLOCK] IS HAVING A SALE ON CLASSES” and people thought I was just really excited about that gym. Which I was, but not to the point of yelling!

    2. Arctic

      I’d rather have someone be curt or yell to my face than have them do it in writing (where I can reread and obsess over it at length.)
      I get that you don’t mean it to come across that way. But I’d address it that way. Saying it is literally not that seems like a really weird way to approach it. OK, it literally isn’t but if it makes me feel the same way how is that a meaningful distinction?

  22. Anita Brayke

    I love reading your website because you have a great vocabulary-I haven’t heard “ameliorate” very often but I’ve now read it here twice, and today I read “panopticon.” I love words!

  23. kc89

    e-mail tone can read so differently than you mean it too

    once someone asked me what I did at job and I said “lots of things! like ___ and ___ and ___”

    the lots of things! was supposed to convey enthusiasm, that was my intent, but she must have read it more like “um, obviously, lots of things!…” because she responded with something like “wow okay I was just asking”

  24. Argh!

    As someone who keeps emails brief, if some replies seem extremely brief compared to the verbosity of your email, you might cut back on the length of your emails. One of my coworkers says in his signature that he apologizes for the brevity & he believes in a 3-sentence rule for email. I agree with this — if something takes up more than a paragraph, I read it as either 1) documentation to put into my HR file or 2) email that should have been a conversation/meeting or 3) email from someone who has poor time-management skills.

    When I get super-long emails, I usually reply with fewer than 5-6 words. I’m not deliberately passive-aggressive, just mentally exhausted by the time I reach the end & not willing to put energy into a reply.

    1. Sara without an H

      I agree. If I think I’m going to have to write more than one screen, I’ll usually take that as a sign that the issue needs a meeting.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House

        See, I’ve had the opposite experience. I am writing something long because we had a meeting where my concerns were brushed off and now I’m documenting that I told you there was an issue. Because I’m not having it come back to bite me later when you pretend the meeting didn’t happen because you didn’t want to hear something I was telling you.

        1. Argh!

          In other words, my theory No. 1 about why an email is long is the reason you would write a long email.

          Do you otherwise write long emails?

  25. LaDeeDa

    I am certified to teach and facilitate a few different types of communication style assessments- like Tracom (you can do a Google for a free assessment if you haven’t taken it or any other) They all have their own language and categories- but the benefit to them is understanding that if you get how other people like to be communicated with, and make a few small concession- it makes relationship building a lot easier, and you can get to your resolutions quicker.
    I have learned how the different people on my team like to be communicated with and it takes nothing for me to be straight to the point with one person, and for someone else have a little nicety first. It makes them feel comfortable.
    My biggest challenge is that my manager and my big boss have two VERY different styles, so when I am presenting or communicating to them both I have to strike a balance so they both hear my message the way they like to receive information.
    It isn’t something that comes easy or naturally to a lot of people, but it is a skill you can learn, if you so desire. In the leadership training, I deliver we spend 4-6 hours discussing communication styles, understanding how you are perceived, understanding how you perceive others, identifying someone else’s perferred style, and how to adjust your messaging to make sure they receive it.

    1. LQ

      Part of this is the difference between “It isn’t something that comes easy or naturally to a lot of people,” and “it takes nothing for me.”

      Yes I do this. But it’s not nothing. It takes time and energy, and not just the 2 seconds to Thanks! but the time to learn and analyse all of the people and then consider their situation, and then what else is happening in their environment, and now we are starting to speculate and have I gone to far down the introspection/speculation path and now I’ve spent 3 minutes and 5 humaning points to figure out if I have to say, “Hey Fergus” at the start of the email or not. And I have a limited reserve of that. Yeah, I’m going to do it. But please be aware it’s not “nothing” for everyone. For some people it’s expensive. And spending 4-6 hours is likely not nearly enough. It might be entirely sufficient for people who are naturals. But as you know if you’re in training, all that training really takes place back on the job as you figure out not how to tailor this one message this one time, but the next one and the next one and the next one and the 10,000th one after that. And I’ve only got so many sets of 10,000 hours to deliberately practice a skill. This isn’t one I enjoy, it sucks, it’s hard, and I hate every single minute of it.

      1. Argh!

        This is why people with more experience are desired for management roles. The more experience you have reading people’s cues and adapting to them, the more quickly you do it and the better manager you’ll be.

  26. Cheesecake 2.0

    At my current workplace, efficiency is prized above all else so pretty much everyone adapts to minimalist emails with next-to-zero niceties pretty quickly. Here’s one of my favorites I got from the chair of the department once:

    Subject line: Plz check attachment against budget
    Message: If wrong, fix it.

    No signature, no thank you, nothing else. Another one from last summer:

    Subject Line: Are you available Aug 7?
    Message: There’s a conference in Oregon. You should represent us.

    No link to conference, no discussion of what conference it is, no asking if I want to go!!! I’ve learned to live with it though.

    1. Amber T

      Ha – I’m all for short emails as long as all the information needed is included.

      Tbh – I’m a big fan of short emails with whatever is needed in the subject line (with little to nothing in the body). I literally just sent an email with “let me know when you’re free – I’ll swing by” in the subject and nothing in the body. The recipient knows what we need to discuss. Sometimes I’ll get “Forward me doc X” in the subject with nothing else, and I reply with doc X and nothing else. Honestly, those are my favorite.

      1. LQ

        I love “let me know when you’re free” subject lines. UGH, yes I know what we have to discuss, I’ll be over as soon as we can. *insert favorite 4 letter curse department*
        They used to totally freak me out, now…I know. I know. You know. I know you know. Ugh. They are the worst.

        1. Amber T

          Hahaha my heart still comes to a sudden stop when our CFO sends these – he has a tendency to do it without communicating what it’s for, so you’ll just get a note saying “swing by.” Feels like being called to the principal’s office as a kid. It’s *always* been a work thing that requires more detail than you can succinctly put in an email, but there’s that little anxiety bubble of “omg I’m getting fired” stuck with me. I have no authority, so I don’t think a message from me like that is scary!

          1. LQ

            I’m not sure where in the last year the anxiety bubble slid away, but I haven’t felt one pop in me when I’ve gotten one of those emails in the last few months at least. At some point maybe it happens enough and I’m really likely to know what it’s about. (I got 2 today, even though both were “new” things I already knew what each of them were and was ready for them.)

    2. LaDeeDa

      LOL! I love this. It is such a culture thing, isn’t it? My first instinct would be to CRINGE HARD.. and would take me a bit to get used to. I would have a hard time responding because my instinct is to respond with niceties– “thanks, so much for asking….” hahaha when that would annoy them. Being aware is key!

      1. Argh!

        I often miss the point of people’s emails where I work because the “Do this and reply” part of the email is buried in the mush above around and below it. One of my coworkers will write the mushy emails like everyone else, but highlight the part where the verb is. I <3 her for that.

        "TL. DR." should be one of my Outlook signatures!

  27. SciDiver

    When I started working in my first office job, I added exclamation points (more than I should have) to all my emails to convey a positive tone. After reading a bit about how women are way more likely to do this than men (https://www.girlboss.com/work/women-using-exclamation-points, links to 4 studies on the topic) and the impact it has on communication, I stopped using them almost entirely. At first this felt awkward and brusque, I got used to it. When I compose an email now without them, I know based on how other people in my organization use email that there’s no unfriendly or rude tone implied. The way we interpret punctuation can have a big impact on how we read the tone of the message, particularly if the sender uses punctuation in a way we don’t.

    1. LaDeeDa

      I love everything communication-related. There are studies about texting and instant messaging too. I have to check myself when receiving instant messages from Millennials, because they instant message in “text speak” and my instinct (bias?) is to perceive that as lazy or unprofessional, but it isn’t to them. I have to make those adjustments in my thinking…

    2. Argh!

      I deleted feminizing language from my communication style decades ago, and then wound up in a very old-fashioned workplace where I’m called “abrasive” by my boss. She claims she’s not sexist. She is. Anytime I don’t defer to a man I hear about it. If I speak up in a meeting I could hear about that. If I float an idea in a meeting she ignores it until a man or one of her pets (who are soft-spoken and use weasel words) amplifies it.

      So… it’s worth remembering how to be girly in case you find yourself in a situation like that.

  28. Name (Required)

    Oh man, workplace anxiety. My frenemy. I grew up in an abusive household and really really panicked whenever I got one of these emails. I don’t have any advice for you, because my anxiety brain doesn’t listen to reason.
    It took me a long time to be able to not feel that way. I just… know what I’m doing now, and know I do it well. My confidence grew as I got more experience.
    It sucks to feel that anxiety, but there isn’t anything wrong with you if you do. Try not to fret about the feeling of panic, just make sure that you’re behaviour is good and you don’t react to that panic. :)

    1. Not So NewReader

      I can relate in my own way.
      I think it helped to tell myself that I had to give people the benefit of doubt that I wanted them to give to me.

      It’s a circle, really. We don’t want to tick anyone off and probably the email writer does not want to tick anyone off either.
      Someone has to decide that they themselves are not ticked, in order to break the circle.
      If I know for a fact I am not angry with (in this example) email writer, then that can help me to more easily figure out that email writer is not ticked at me.
      But if my defenses are up, it’s easier to see an antagonist at every turn. But not everything is a personal attack, it just isn’t.

      Going the opposite way, I think that one can promise themselves to stand up for themselves if there is proof of an actual attack or threat. I think promising ourselves to take care of our own selves is really important.

  29. boo bot

    I have just developed a theory of email, by which you have to write in one of two ways:

    1. Write in a way that would sound normal if read aloud without ill intent : “No, we actually don’t do that, because when we tried it all the arson became a problem. See if the client wants roaches instead.” “Will do, thanks!”

    2. Write in a way that would sound super weird aloud, making it clear that the brevity is due to the format: “ETA Project Thing?” “Still due 5:31 Y/N?” “Y”

    I think the disconnect comes in where the wording is something that would very likely sound rude or ominous if communicated aloud without changes to the phrasing or an unrealistically cheerful tone:
    “See me.” “Did you finish Project Thing yet?” “Don’t move my cockroaches.”

    I think on the receiving end, it’s best to assume the best regardless, but I had a theory & now I’m sharing it unsolicited on the internet.

    1. boo bot

      Oh, I think I didn’t actually make my point, which is that I don’t think it’s the length of brief emails that bothers people, I think it’s a certain kind of phrasing that mirrors how people talk when they’re pissed off.

      1. fposte

        I think that’s a really interesting notion–I hadn’t heard of it framed like that, and I think you’re right that that’s what people snag on. However, I don’t think writers have to write their emails accordingly, and I’m even surer that they won’t :-). I therefore think that this is a useful concept for readers to understand that people’s writing isn’t how they speak, and to think of the similarities to texting here.

        1. LQ

          That said, I do love the people who can figure out how to use the voting tool in email and would be so much faster if we used it more often internally where we all use the same (outlook) email tool. Send the question, I’ll vote. We’ll be done! A way to put generic polls in emails that I can just respond to actually inside my email? Yes please. I’d be all over that.

  30. Peaches

    This 100% used to be me (and sometimes, I still have to stop myself from thinking this way).

    Our office got a new manager about a year and a half ago. Sometimes, he’ll verbally tells me to email him such and such information. I usually email him the information in a few sentences, and he ALWAYS responds with ‘ok’. Nothing else. I used to fret all day over what I’d done wrong, trying to figure out why he was mad at me. One day, it dawned on me that his response was strictly due to his personality. I’ve always received glowing reviews from him, but he was (and still is) just a straight shooter.

  31. nnn

    Three self-psychology experiments:

    1. Imagine it isn’t an email. Imagine it’s a text message, sent by someone with whom you have an ongoing texting relationship, while they’re in the middle of their workday doing something else.

    Because that’s what a curt email is – your co-worker is in the middle of something, and briefly needs to communicate with you by a textual medium.

    2. Imagine it isn’t an email, imagine it’s an in-person communication. Harried co-worker, rushing to a client meeting, pokes their head in your office and says “Where’s the teapot file?” They aren’t being mean, they’re just in a rush.

    Because that’s what a curt email is – your co-worker is on deadline and needs the thing, they’re just communicating by a textual medium.

    3. A curt email is a sign that the sender feels the relationship is already strong and healthy.

    If you don’t know someone or don’t have a strong relationship with them, you’d never send a curt email. You’d start by introducing yourself and providing context.

    But if you already know each other and have been emailing back and forth all day, your 47th email of the day may well be “Here’s the file:”

    Your curt emailing co-worker sees your relationship as established and your conversation as ongoing, holding over from the last time you talked. So it’s actually a sign that they feel more warm and connected towards you than you originally suspected!

  32. Res Admin

    It is a tough call. I try to make my emails both pleasant and succinct. I try to read the emails I receive with a pleasant internal voice.

    Some people just have a really abrupt style of email communication. Nothing personal. I know what to expect when I see their name pop up.

    Some people I wish would trim it down to the facts because no one has time for that much chit chat.

    And the one time I just answered a question (because I was super busy) I got a lengthy nasty email back about what a horrible rude person I was for not asking about her day, etc. etc. (barf). It’s been around 10 years and she still hates me. And I mean has actively tried to sabotage me “hates” me. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with her often.

    1. fposte

      Somebody who actively tries to sabotage you is clearly beyond all reason, and no email would have placated her.

      1. The New Wanderer

        Yup, if it wasn’t that, it would have been the next thing. Someone looking for a reason to be horrible will always find it.

  33. MLB

    Another perspective…I am a direct person, and when I send emails for work, the purpose of those emails is to get something done. I’m either answering a question, asking a question, or providing someone with pertinent information. The purpose of email at work is not for socializing. I save that for face to face interactions or phone calls, because tone is not always obvious when reading communication. I’m being paid to get my job done, and that doesn’t include spending extra time to create emails that provide warm fuzzies.

    1. fposte

      So, speaking as a task-oriented person, I get it–and I also think that that’s a little blinkered. It’s not like our way is right and the other way is wrong and dumb, building relationships can itself itself a valuable task that saves time over the long term, and being out of step with workplace culture in either direction can be a problem.

      1. AnonEMoose

        I don’t think those who emphasize relationship-building are bad or wrong…but sometimes I feel like they think those of us who are more task-oriented are wrong. It’s what I said above about how I feel like I’m expected to accommodate their style, but there’s no reciprocal expectation that they try to understand mine.

        1. fposte

          I’ve heard both versions, but I could see it being disproportionate, especially in some fields. In general, I think it’s optimal to skew away from extremes to either side when writing, to assume good faith (mostly for the relationship oriented) and high skills and precision (mostly for the task-oriented) when reading, and to be alert to what tone flies in your communication circles.

        2. Not So NewReader

          I guess it would be accurate to say that neither side is getting what they need. The task people need levity and the relationship people need connection.

      2. MLB

        I wouldn’t say either way is right or wrong. I was offering my perspective as the reasoning behind why an email may seem “curt”. As I said, I build relationships face to face, not over email. And while I’m not nasty or berating, I can’t control other people’s feelings if they think my emails are a personal attack on them because I didn’t add 5 emojis and personal banter.

  34. Lynn Marie

    The thing is, if someone has a direct style and a problem with you, they will communicate that by telling you what the problem is, not by being short while they’re writing about something else.

  35. Em

    For me, the “thrill of panic” you describe (great term for it!) for emails like this is one of the things that becoming a manager really helped with. When I was able to start looking at emails like this from the perspective of “how would I advise someone else who received this email,” it really calmed down my response.

    For some reason, even though like the OP I previously knew mentally not to take this personally, starting to manage people is what finally cemented the better response choices into my nervous system.

  36. bookends

    Ooh, I think this is so interesting. I’ve run into so many different email styles in my job, so I’ve worked hard in the past few years to not let email tones get to me.

    It actually secretly bothers me that people don’t utilize tone as a way to get their point across, though! I’m a union rep and it really comes in handy when emailing employers whose employees I represent. Tone helps drive home the difference between “we have a good working relationship and I’m happy to collaborate with you to fix this issue and improve the lives of our members/your employees” vs. “this is a clear violation of the contract that we need to address or we’ll be filing a grievance/ULP.” So much can be said with a few words and some punctuation, and people who normally get friendly emails from me know when things get serious.

  37. Lucille2

    Came here to give a plus one to Alison’s last comment that you CAN change your brain to receive messages less emotionally. I have spent my career working for global companies with peers in various other parts of the world with varying degrees of English proficiency. I also come from a part of the country where bluntness is received as rudeness.

    With that being said, I’ve found that interacting with colleagues over the phone or in person when possible makes a tremendous difference in the relationship. Some people really hate email. Some people are very direct and efficient in their communication style, and some people really just articulate better verbally rather than in written form. And a lot of communication style is tied to culture. Keep that in mind. If something really rubs you wrong or you feel you and the other person aren’t on the same page, pick up the phone and talk it over. You might be surprised how friendly and warm the other person is when you communicate in their preferred method.

  38. seller of teapots

    I used to write emails with a lot of social niectities and I’d wring my hands a bit before sending them, to make sure the tone was “just right.” And I would also get a thrill of panic (great phrase) when I got direct emails, especially from someone who impressed/intimidated me.

    Moving forward in my career and the confidence that has come with that experience and now having to be thoughtful about my own bandwidth, I’ve shifted to writing more direct emails myself. I don’t wring my hands over them, and I definitely deploy niceties when necessary (i.e. with a customer) but I just dont take the same amount of time on my emails anymore. And I don’t panic about the tone in others emails, as well.

    Which is, somewhat ironically, a long winded way of saying that ultimately this issue was about confidence in my own worth as an employee, contributor, and communicator. When I gave myself permission to worry less about my own emails, I also freed myself from worrying so much about what everyone else’s emails meant.

    1. seller of teapots

      I should add: in the meantime (because this wont change overnight) I have had some luck creating distance between myself and my anxiety. When the panic over small stuff starts to rise up, rather than over-identify with my fear and fall down the rabbit hole, I try to acknowledge it. “Hi Fear. I see you there. I’m not letting you drive the ship, but I see that you’re along for this ride.”

      For me, this helped a lot!

    2. TechWorker

      Yeah this sounds right… I am partway on that journey (I no longer really stress about internal emails, though sometimes go back and make them more certain, removing qualifiers, etc) but still stress about & take time over (sensibly I think for my level of experience) external facing ones.

  39. Environmental Compliance

    I am 100% the person on the other side slightly panicking if my email sounds too brusque, but I usually err on the concise and to-the-point side rather than putting in excessive sentences. I just don’t want to spend 4-5 sentences on what really is a 1 sentence question, and I really don’t mean it in any harsh way. I try to include plenty of positive wording when possible to convey a friendlier tone, because there’s a big difference when I read “send over files xyz” and “please send over files xyz, thanks!”.

  40. TooHonest

    I like to be direct and to the point in my emails because it’s just quicker and easier and especially because that’s how everyone in my office writes their emails. Sadly, this leads to my boss telling me I’m “”too honest”” AKA I’m too direct in trying to get the job done. I don’t think this has anything at all to do with the fact my office is mostly men and I’m a woman… nope, nothing to do with that all.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      TH,
      TPS report due 1/24 @ 0900
      B.

      Hello B!
      Thank you for letting me know the TPS report is due Thursday, January 24 at 9 am! I will be sure to have it to you by then! How are you feeling? I heard you were sniffling, I hope you’re not catching the cold going around! Would you like be to bring you some soup and a hug? Could you use a foot rub too? And I really don’t mind grabbing your dry cleaning on the way back from lunch!
      Love and snuggles,
      TooHonest

  41. TooHonest

    I should also add that I used to fret extensively about how I came off in emails and I would spend so long crafting the perfect note. After I hit send, I would ruminate over what I’ve said and oh god, I sounded like such a bitch, I should’ve written it differently! Well it turns out that I actually have really terrible anxiety, of which I had no idea about! Getting that treated help me out A LOT.

  42. Sara without an H

    Haven’t read all the comments upstream, but so far I haven’t seen anyone consider that someone might prefer a short-&-to-the-point email style because they’re drowning in email. If my inbox is overflowing, I have a tight deadline, and one of my staff called in sick, I’m not going to add a lot of filler. My bare minimum: Greeting – Request – Thanks! – Signature. Since most of my colleagues are kind of swamped, too, nobody seems to mind.

    I rarely get email from the Grand Boss of All Bosses, but when I do, she often just puts her request in subject line (Subject: How much did we pay for journal subscriptions this year?) and leaves the body of the message blank. I don’t see this as “curt,” since I know her inbox is perpetually full and everybody on campus wants “just five minutes” of her time.

    1. Email Away!

      I notice upper management tends to do the “write the message in the subject” thing more so than someone at the junior level. I find it so efficient!

  43. TechWorker

    The rule we have for tone (which may well be a standard thing idk) is that if you can change the sign off to ‘f*ck you’ and not fundamentally change the tone of the email, you need to go back and rewrite it.

    I have one colleague who I’d say is curt to the point of rudeness (he also absolutely doesn’t mince his words, though he gets away with it because he’s nearly always right!) – it’s a definite adjustment though, I have to try to not assume every email coming from him is a little angry.

    1. LQ

      I feel like you just aren’t f*ck youing well enough. I could end any email with that, sometimes jovially, sometimes with serious harshness, sometimes with a sigh, sometimes with a whatever I don’t care, sometimes with a shrug.

  44. TakingTheFifth

    Ooh, this person would drive me nuts. If I’m e-mailing somebody I’ve already said hello to for the day & maybe exchanged pleasantries in person & just need to know where the Smith file is, I’m going to e-mail and ask “Do you know where the Smith file is?” I have co-workers who have to ask how my day is going, explain why they need the file, apologize for bothering me, etc. before asking their question. GRRF!

  45. Clay on my apron

    I tend to write very direct and sometimes terse emails. Luckily I usually remember to go back and add things like “Dear Herbert” and “Kind regards, Snoot”. Otherwise they really sound unfriendly, unintentionally so.

  46. tra la la

    I work with someone who tends to send very terse and extremely critical-sounding emails — basically, they are someone you usually only hear from if you’ve made a mistake. The terseness is because they’re using boilerplate, but the combination of terseness + “I caught you in a mistake” can really feel harsh, especially if it results in a back and forth conversation. I’ve had multiple occasions where I’ve gone and talked to this person face-to-face, because they’re actually a lovely person and pleasant to talk with, and that face-to-face reminder really helps me manage my knee-jerk negative reaction to “terse ‘you messed up’ email.”

  47. anon4this

    Because I like concrete examples, and because I suspect that what I view as “neutral” would seem “brusque” to someone else, here’s a redacted example from my sent folder:

    Hi Fergus,

    Can we meet sometime this week to discuss the chocolate teapot widgets? I’d be free on Thursday before noon, or on Friday between 10 and 1, for example.

    Thanks!
    –Jane

    I imagine that this must seem very brusque to a relationship-oriented person like the LW. I know that a lot of people put things like “Hope your Monday is treating you well!” or “Have a great weekend!” in emails, but especially in a professional context, I’ve never felt comfortable doing it myself. I almost feel like I’m being too forward, or like I’m trying to be friends with the person. (I don’t have a problem receiving such emails from other people; it just feels pretty fake coming from me, especially if I’m writing to someone who’s senior to me.)

    Someone wondered above whether brusque people are bothered by the thought that people might be seriously upset by our tone – I’d have to say “yes, but I’d be kind of surprised that they’re upset.” Because I see this as normal, and retraining myself would require a lot of effort. But I am young and junior and if someone were to truly require me to write emails a different way, I guess I’d have no choice.

    1. LQ

      I am loving people’s concrete examples because it makes me look absurdly short…

      From my actual outbox today (not all of them but a good sample):

      “No problem.”
      “I’m free now.”
      “Stop over.”
      “Thanks!”
      “Can you get me an update?”
      “Where is this at?”
      There were also a few long emails with lengthy pontification or questions.

      (No Hi Ferguses or sign off -LQs)

    2. TechWorker

      I don’t really see this as brusque at all tbh – you started with ‘hi’ and ended with a happy sounding ‘thanks!’ :p

  48. Sara without an H

    Hi, OP — As you have probably figured out if you’ve made it to this point in the comment stream, there are two distinct approaches to email composition. They aren’t “right” or “wrong,” just different.

    This fact should relieve any anxiety you may have about receiving a seemingly “curt” email from a co-worker — they’re unlikely to be mad at you, they’re just a subscriber to the short-and-to-the-point school of email.

  49. LQ

    Something else to remember is what their physical (maybe virtual?) work environment is like. All around me physically people have gotten a lot busier in the last few weeks. (Which oddly makes me less busy.) There is more urgency, more work, more terseness, more short to the point emails. To me this feels comfortable and I can easily slide into this. So when the people who don’t physically work around me get emails I may be shifting to be terser because that’s what my physical work space is like right now. People walking faster in front of my office. People talking faster on phones. Not so many people stopping to laconically chat. If their physical space is not yours, being a little aware of how their physical space work environment is/changes can be helpful.

    “Oh, things are really busy with the shutdown so EVERYONE in LQs area is going to be a little quicker/terser/etc.”

  50. char

    I sometimes write terse emails, and I can guarantee you that in mine the only unspoken message is, “I only have a couple minutes to write this email.” The brevity has everything to do with me and how my day is going and is never a reflection on the recipient.

  51. Job Hopper (Maybe)

    Removed because off-topic. You’re welcome to send this to me directly or save it for the Friday open thread, but I don’t allow off-topic questions here.

  52. Courageous cat

    I once watched my boss read an email out loud to herself and then her response out loud was “Okay that’s fine!” and then I watched her type “ok.” and send it. I would have been HORRIFIED to receive such a response in that context, but her external thought process was perfectly cheerful and normal.

    So in that case, later that year when I said something and she “ok.”ed me, I just took it in stride – and it was not an issue.

    This is just to show that some people have no idea how they come off and it’s pretty common/not something to worry about.

  53. Not So NewReader

    Thrill of panic.

    It’s interesting to me that some people only work well under duress. This opens up the topic of where do you get your energy and motivation from, OP?
    I remember times in my life where I was so dog-tired from being pulled in too many directions at one time. The only time I had energy was if something went wrong and panic/upset hit me. Otherwise, I had the zombie or robot thing going on as I was just too freakin’ tired.
    I have seen it in other tired people, too. The only way they can navigate their day is by telling themselves everything is a Big Problem. That is the only way they can find energy to do what they have to do. So they jump from one crisis (real or imagined) to another until it’s time to go home.
    If you find yourself very tired then this may or may not be relevant to you. The problem with this motivational technique is that it’s not sustainable and it can bite us at the worst possible time.
    Try to manage your work so that you have a fair idea that things are not a problem. This can mean double checks, lists, post notes, whatever.
    One thing I have done with jobs is to do repetitive activities around the same time every day. Usually these are the basics of the job and easy to forget. I put them in clusters and then assign them a time slot to do the cluster. Cluster A I do when I come in- some things in cluster A I only do once a day, such as check the door drop. Other things in Cluster A I will do again around lunch time, such as check the email. So email becomes a Cluster A and Cluster B task. And then I do Cluster C when I get ready to go home. The beauty of this is that I know I have done items 1 through 20 by the time I leave. They are anchored in a routine for me. It helps to control the panics because I know the status of all the moving parts of my job.
    Find ways to control your work, such that you can say, “I KNOW that I know.”
    Again, this may or may not apply to you, but confidence has to come from some where and we can build things into the way we handle our work such that panic is not default go-to anymore.

  54. LGC

    Oh man.

    I’m the same way – if I had to guess, you’re pretty empathetic in general, LW (well, you say as much since you’re a “relationship person”) and that’s why you’re getting the jolt of panic. A lot of people I deal with are more direct and results oriented, so they don’t think as much about their wording. (If anyone who knows me through my job is reading this and think it applies to them: I love you, really! It’s just your emails need a little work. Please don’t fire me.)

    I still get that jolt of panic sometimes because I’m extremely neurotic and I’ll panic no matter what, but I kind of learn to anticipate that…like, that’s just the way Fergus emails because he’s just like that. Usually, you can learn to tell if someone is just a Curt Emailer or whether they’re actually being aggressive after a while – our accounts manager is very terse (and extremely busy), so something that would be an act of war if I said it is just routine from her. (And it’s not that she’s hostile! It’s that I’m generally fluffy, although I’ve been trying to cut that down.)

    So, it’s a bit of a two-step, where I still have the quick initial reaction (and don’t feel bad about letting myself have it), and then realize that this person is in my Terse Emailer mental file. It’s not about me – it’s that Fergus is a Very Busy Man and doesn’t have time to consider whether he sounds like a jerk in e-mails.

    Side story time: A few months back, my boss emailed me and my coworker that she wanted to see us in her office now. We both literally ran over because she worded it a bit tersely and it seemed like she needed us immediately.

    She was extremely confused as to why we’d rushed over until we explained it and she looked at her email to us.

  55. Kiwi

    bother, that was an answer to Job Hopper, and that thread’s been removed. Alison, feel free to remove this too. Sorry!

  56. Flash Bristow

    Obviously it depends who they are from and their status relative to yours, but with one person I have actually said to them “just checking -is there a problem or are you just being brief? Your emails come over so much more abrupt than when we speak so I’m just making sure we are good?” And we were good… And he then went away, thought about it, and now consciously tries to write a little more how he speaks – not unnecessarily chatty, but no longer so brusque. Occasionally he even adds smilies which… Well at least I know I’m not in his bad books, I guess!

    That said, obviously there are some people to whom you just can’t say that- you won’t have the standing. But you could maybe ask someone more experienced / friendly / office “mum” / etc if Bob’s emails are always abrupt. Maybe the answer will reassure you. But do be careful who you choose to speak to if you do that. You don’t want it getting around the office that you can’t handle things.

    Good luck, I hope Alison’s excellent suggestions help you to gain some reassurance and confidence.

  57. Doctor Schmoctor

    I’m a curt emailer.

    I just suck an writing nice sounding emails, so if you get one like that, the person on the other side is probably like me: just bad with words.

  58. Vixy

    I’m a succinct email sender. I don’t see the necessity to add in bunches of fluffy junk to soften my message. I abhor emojis and cutesy fonts, it makes me think everything is written in a childish giggle.

    Example from today, I received a meeting request, and declined the meeting with: [name], I already have a meeting at that time. -V

    I may be the odd one out in my EQ on this from some of the above comments. I’m certainly not “horrified” with the thought that the recipient might consider it brusque. It’s a matter of fact email. It’s not up to me to manage their emotional reaction to something straightforward. To be quite frank, someone who’s liable to burst into tears or anxious hand-wringing in response to an email like “Meeting’s at 9.” or something like that would make me question their professional maturity. There’s been more than a few experiences in my career where a person’s over-the-top reactions were a form of emotional manipulation to get something from boss or co-worker. (Not at all insinuating that’s anything like what the OP is doing.) If I tried to retype everything to adjust to every person’s potential emotional response completing tasks would take days.

    There are good thought process checks in Alison’s answer and in the comments for people to re-sync their gut check reaction. Assume positive intent. Text based mediums are always difficult to convey normal social cues; even verbally, communication styles vary based on a variety of things, including region, culture, gender, background, etc.

    1. Jennifer Juniper

      Why would anyone think emojis and cutesy fonts are appropriate in professional communication? All they do is make the e-mail harder to read.

  59. Sarah

    Is there a letter somewhere for those of us with the opposite problem… we write terse emails but would prefer not to make the OP anxious?

    Every time I try to un-tersify my emails I (when reading it to myself) sound very defensive or otherwise awkward. I would love some stock phrases that hit a happy medium.

  60. caryatis

    Keep in mind that “warm” emails annoy the **** out of people with a more straightforward communication style. Why don’t you just say what you want, instead of forcing me to wade through paragraphs of pointless pleasantries and exclamation points and nicey-nice bull****. So, the problem goes both ways.

    1. Email Away!

      This is EXACTLY how I feel. I usually roll my eyes at the fake nicey-nice crap. I have learned to add it in depending on who I am talking to though.

  61. Gobsmacked

    Grrr. I’m the one writing those emails. I swear, when I say “Please send me your end of week report by 4 pm”, I am literally only saying that I want your end of week report by 4 pm. If I was talking to you face to face, I would say exactly the same thing. There isn’t any “I hate you, I’m mad at you, and why didn’t you get it to me yesterday” subtext, and when people spend their time saying “what do you think she meant by that”, it makes me crazy. Why do people need 6 paragraphs of fluff to make it sound “nicer” when I’m only asking you a simple question? And nothing I said was in any way not nice – there is absolutely no way to read a reprimand or complaint into “please send me your report”

  62. dan

    I usually agree with the general thrust of the comments, but I have to disagree here. If an email sender is brusque or gruff or condescending I’m not going to assume that it’s my issue. I don’t need a ‘compliment sandwich’ or to be treated with kids gloves, but I don’t think decency or respect is too much to ask for. However, I have no problem calling it out when I see it… actually I did that just last week. It was not well received, which makes me wonder if the sender wasn’t the one with the fragility issue.

  63. Misha

    I think part of this is not just understanding that some people send brusque or curt emails, but trying to be more empathetic to the realities of other people’s roles.

    I have always been a more “warm” sender (not paragraphs of fluff by any means, just things like including ‘sign-offs’ – thanks, let me know if you need clarification, etc etc.) but in becoming a manager, I’ve had to re-evaluate where I put my time and energy. One of my first ever direct reports asked if I was mad at her because of an email, because she perceived it as curt. It definitely wasn’t but I also didn’t mind her asking, since it gave us a chance to have the conversation OP is asking Alison here.

    However, I also found in our conversation that it wasn’t just about inferring a tone that wasn’t there, but a deeper perception that I didn’t have time for this employee’s questions. Absolutely not the case (and so glad this issue was caught!), but I did have to explain that just because something is top priority for her, doesn’t mean it is for me. That doesn’t mean I get to be rude or curt, or that my employee’s priorities are wrong or unimportant, but that I have many tasks on my plate and am balancing them.

    So for me, the question to ask yourself isn’t exclusively “is this tone really what I perceive it as?”, and more like “what other responsibilities is this person balancing/what else might be impacting how they respond to me?” I find in general it’s a helpful question to think about when you’re asking for things from a boss or manager or other “superior”.

  64. HereKittyKitty

    I’m usually the person that’s considered the “curt email sender,” but I’m not trying to be curt, I’m trying to be clear!

    I find it very difficult to weed out the actual instructions when hedging and pleasantries are baked in and prefer an explicit instruction. This came to a head when my very kind manager tried to give me feedback that got so lengthy I ended up frustrated and asked her to just tell me what she wanted to be changed. Now we joke about the day she figured out she didn’t need to bake in all the niceness and just tell me what she wants outright lol.

  65. 1idea

    If your address book will allow it and it shows up with the message in you inbox, it may help to add photos of people to their contact files, preferably with pleasant expressions on their faces. I did this in Outlook to help prevent myself from emailing the wrong Scott where I used to work (there were at least 5 of them that would auto populate out of my email history or address book), and found that seeing people’s faces also friendlied up the tone of brisk emails.

  66. Petite with RBF

    I find this post very interesting as it’s like a different perspective to one previous post by the “person who writes curt responses”.

    I am like the curt-emailer, and with a Science background, find it more efficient if I address the topic or problem in the email head on.

    My only comment for the OP is that you are lucky and don’t need to bother yourself. In this world, where everyone is required to smile and always have a quirky rejoinder, the curt people like us are the problem. We just have to change ourselves and learn to make “small talk” to be nicer to people like you. Who cares if you waste like 5 mins proof reading your email to be nice? Just as long as we make you feel better. Let’s build rainbows.

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