“Please advise.” If you use this phrase in your email or workplace messages, chances are the person who receives that message will feel annoyed when they read it. That’s the finding in a recent study by word game site WordFinder. The company combined data from Ahrefs and Google AdWords to find the most commonly used workplace phrases that feel passive-aggressive to those hearing or reading them. “Please advise” came out at the top of the list.
Situations differ. But in general if you have something difficult to say, it’s wiser to just say it, rather than use phrasing that others may see as passive-aggressive and that could leave them feeling frustrated or angry. It’s worth checking out the entire list of passive-aggressive phrases (part of a larger study on the use of slang). These are some of the most off-putting.
1. “Please advise.”
This phrase has a definite edge to it. It implies that you’re waiting for information or an answer to a question that the recipient should already have provided. If that is the case, a better approach would be simply to say that you need or would like an answer by a specific day or time.
If that’s not the case and you aren’t tapping your foot impatiently waiting for info you should already have, try something friendlier like, “Let me know,” or “What do you think?”
2. “Circling back.”
This is a phrase I see a lot in emails from people who are trying to pitch me stuff, along with “just following up,” which also made it onto WordFinder’s list of most-hated passive-aggressive phrases.
Here’s the thing about circles. Once you start going around them, you never come to the end. So “circling back” suggests that the sender will keep sending follow-up messages, again and again, until they get a response. If that truly is your intention, you should say so and explain why. If not, choose different wording.
Admittedly, if you haven’t gotten a response from someone, it’s hard to send a follow-up message of any kind without sounding at least a little passive-aggressive. At the same time, follow-up messages can be very effective so you do need to send them. I myself appreciate getting follow-up messages–I may have intended to respond but forgot, or I may have missed seeing the original message.
When I follow up, I often use the phrase, “in case you hadn’t seen this.” That feels to me like a better choice than “circling back.”
3. “Friendly reminder.”
There’s just nothing friendly about “friendly reminder.” It’s a phrase most of us have seen on letters after we fail to pay our bills. Please don’t ever use this phrase.
If you have to remind someone of something, “please don’t forget” to do whatever it is would be preferable. Or, simply state whatever it is you need. For example, “I still haven’t received your report. Can you get it to me by Tuesday?”
4. “Thanks in advance.”
I’ll confess that I sometimes use this phrase myself. It can be handy if you’re asking someone to do something, you know for sure that they will do it, and you want to thank them for their assistance without having to send a whole other email.
That’s fine, but in any other circumstance, “thanks in advance” comes across as manipulative. It implies that since you’re already thanking them, they’re obligated to do what you requested. It’s even worse if you’re messaging someone who might not do what you asked and is under no obligation to fulfill your request. If that’s the case, don’t thank the person prematurely. Instead, explain why what you’re asking is important, and tell them you’ll be grateful (or even owe them a favor) if they do it.
These phrases are bad enough on their own, but they’re truly awful if you combine them into the same email. For instance, “Circling back here on my request from last week. This is a friendly reminder that I still need that info from you. Please advise, and thanks in advance.” Those three sentences made me cringe, and I’m hoping they do the same for you.
Whoever you’re writing to, you want your communication to be friendly and persuasive, not passive-aggressive and demanding. Written communication already lacks the nuance and friendliness you can convey if you’re speaking to someone in person. So it’s wise to avoid these passive-aggressive sounding phrases that make things that much worse.
There’s a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or tip. Often they text me back and we wind up in a conversation. (Want to learn more? Here’s some information and a special invitation to an extended free trial.) Many are entrepreneurs or business leaders and they tell me how important clear communication is to their companies and careers. If that’s true for you too, avoiding these phrases is a great place to start.