Being a programmer, I largely run on the logical/factual side which tends to get me in trouble with my emails being read in tones not intended. One email, I even was sat down with my boss for being "condescending" when I by no means meant it that way at all. I just try to layout the information as concise as I can while being informative and cutting out the fluff. I again had my boss talk to me today about my tones used in the emails and I am wondering what I can do to avoid people reading them with the wrong tone?

The line in an email flagged as condescending:

Hi Bob, I currently don't have the luxury of time to look at the issue right now as I am trying to get a high priority project done.

My manager told me that this was taken as being condescending by the recipient. For those wondering, The following lines asked how important the issue is (which was never communicated to me until after my boss talked to me), and if needed, I can take a look at such and such time/day and then proceeded to provide some knowledge about what I knew of the subject off the top of my head.

Usually, these emails are sent out via team leads/project managers/Senior developers or someone who is aware of the political climate and is able to word things appropriately, but my company does not have these roles and it is up to us.

I probably was mostly just trying to get them to go away. I was getting a lot of pressure to get this project done in a relatively unreasonable time frame while also holding some benefits hostage based on its completion. I definitely realize that does not make my response excusable, but wanted to provide more context.

Also, it should be noted that this was not the only content of the email! The email as a whole was close to 4 paragraphs explaining my knowledge that I knew off the top of my head about the situation and the application. This line was highlighted because of the poor word choice.

  • 21
    DO NOT use comments to answer the question. Comments are only for requesting clarification or suggesting improvements.
    – Catija
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 2:10
  • 2
    Leaving aside the question of tone, the question indicates that your organization might have a process issue. Do you have an issue tracker? Do you have someone triaging issues and assigning them priorities? Commented May 23, 2018 at 13:57
  • 4
    People, we have a chatroom for this kind of stuff (discussion). No need to blow up someone else's inbox :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented May 26, 2018 at 13:30

15 Answers 15


I think your problem here is the word "luxury." Not only would the line flow just as well if you cut it out, but it's insinuating that the person emailing you isn't as busy as you are. It's probably being taken as "not everyone has the luxury of free time at work like you do," which I don't think you're trying to convey.

Instead, that line could be rewritten (taking out the redundant "currently" and "right now") as:

Hi Bob,

I won't be able to look at the issue right now as I'm very busy with a high priority project.

However, even this may be taken as insulting! Unfortunately, humans are not as nice to work with as machines. There's no bob.reply(ggiaquin16.busy, false); method to call. While it's good to remove emotion and keep your work emails objective, you also have to be careful not to be emotionless--there's always room to be polite!

As such, I'd actually modify the line further to add an apology, as that's the polite thing to do when you cause inconvenience. This will also help lead into the rest of your email where you suggest things you can do despite being busy.

Hi Bob,

Sorry, but I won't be able to look at the issue right now as I'm very busy with a high priority project. However, ... {helpful things here}

I know you say that you enjoy "cutting the fluff" (and I can relate!) but the addition of those first 2 tiny words makes all the difference where human interaction is involved.

I'd like to add that I prefer to use figures of speech in emails like these. So I may say:

Hi Bob,

Sorry, but I won't be able to look at the issue right now as my bucket is full with a high priority project. However, ... {helpful things here}

(emphasis for the figure of speech)

However, you should be careful with this. While a well understood figure might let your email be better received, a misused figure will hurt you. This is what's happening with your "luxury" usage in the original email.

  • 7
    The use of "high priority" is also questionable. Consider why "sorry, I have a prior engagement" is such a clichè when declining social invitations, but you'll hardly ever hear "sorry, I have a more important engagement". Consider refining "Sorry, but I won't be able to look at the issue right now as my bucket is full with a high priority project" to "Sorry, but I won't be able to look at the issue right now as I just started another project." The idea of first-come first-serve appeals to people's natural sense of fairness, while "priority" carries undertones of entitlement and privilege.
    – Alex R
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 3:28
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    @AlexR In your personal life prioritizing friends and events is rude, but on the job I would think it's expected (and even praised). In the work environment, certain customers (at least at my job) actually have entitlement and privilege because they pay more/their deadline is closer/they require more work.
    – scohe001
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 3:42
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    Additionally: In my personal experience E-Mails are always read more harshly than spoken word. So you should always write two steps more friendly than you would formulate when speaking face to face (since he is missing your tone of voice and your facial expressions)
    – Falco
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 9:28
  • @scohe001 I would normally agree, but OP is having trouble with being too blunt and coming off as rude in an office environment. Considering he's been pulled aside for the line he mentioned, it's probably best to be on the safer side.
    – Byte11
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 4:29

You need to work on your written communication skills.

Being logical and factual has nothing to do with it. You're implying that you can't be logical and factual as well as tactful in your emails. That's simply not true.

Let's look at why the example was wrong:

the luxury of time

Time spent doing your job is not a luxury. This phrase implies that anyone who can spare the resources to do the task is somehow working a luxurious job while you labor away.

You also say:

I am trying to get a high priority project done

This implies that Bob's request is harming your efforts to complete a task that you are asserting is worth more than Bob's work.

Cut that out. Those details are just your opinions. You claim you don't like fluff, but using words like "luxury" and including the importance of your work is fluff.

Once you cut out unimportant details, focus on conveying a friendly environment.

Proper, polite communication is part of your job. Political climate is irrelevant.

Focus on positive sentences:

Hi Bob, I would but I am currently tied up in another project right now. Can this task wait until I'm freed up a bit? Maybe in [X] [days/hours]?

Including specific dates and times helps Bob determine that your email was sincere. If you just reply "I don't have time", it will come across as "Go away and don't bug me". To put it simply, that makes you a bad employee.

This advice is not specific to your job. Your company should not need to have designated roles for these emails because their employees are incapable of proper human interaction.

Important Note: Face the facts. Your email was condescending. You didn't mean to do it. That's fine; mistakes happen. We are here to learn. But you need to accept the facts here so you can move on.

Helpful Tips:

  • Facts aren't always useful. The priority of your work is irrelevant unless asked specifically, even if it's true. Only include them when needed, never before.
  • If you don't convey your intentions, you open up your words to interpretation. Always say what you mean and explain your rationale if it is ambiguous.
  • A little "fluff" goes a long way for politeness. However, it's not really fluff. Using words in text that explain your emotions are a substitute for Body Language, and are very important if they add value to the interpretation of the other person.
  • Text has tone. The English Language is vast enough to express yourself. Use it wisely and take into consideration your culture, as well as Connotation. If your text is so concise that it loses your intentions, it's not concise, it's lacking.
  • No one has the ability to read your mind through their computer. All they have is what you write. They are not required to figure out your intentions. If you make them do this, not only can you be in trouble when they take it the wrong way, but you also waste their time attempting to dissect it.
  • Some people are better at this than others. If you are constantly having trouble expressing yourself via Email, find a way to talk to the other person face-to-face.
  • Thank you! I have come to terms with understanding it is, I actually prefer to go talk face to face. It makes it easier to explain and talk. In this case, I would have to go to another building and I am not even sure where or what they look like and might be a bit much to go run around the complex for a quickie. I appreciate the time to help!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:13
  • 2
    @ggiaquin16 You can also leverage voice chat or a phone call if needed. A few people at my workplace prefer that over instant message or email.
    – Clay07g
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:41
  • Yes, after that, I was talking to that team via phone for communication for the rest of the issue and that helped a lot as well.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:43
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    Depending on the situation, "high priority" may be worth including. At a company I used to work for, "I'm working on a rush job right now" means "the company is being paid 50% over normal rates for me to focus on getting this done as fast as possible. Don't interrupt me unless either a) you've got a double-rush job (100% over normal rates) or b) the building is on fire." (Incidentally, I experienced both those interruptions while working there.)
    – Mark
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 0:36
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    "This implies that Bob's request is harming your efforts to complete a task that you are asserting is worth more than Bob's work. Cut that out. Those details are just your opinions." Uhm I would assume the priority of his job came from his manager, not him.
    – user541686
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 21:48

If you truly are not trying to be condescending, then you'll need to work with your boss to come up with ways to reword your emails. For example, instead of telling people that you

"don't have the luxury of time to look at the issue right now"

your boss might suggest saying something like

I'm working on a high priority project that I don't feel I can interrupt. Could you please contact (my boss) with this matter and have him tell me what priority to put on it?

In other words, you aren't telling the sender that their problem is unimportant (which your original email implied). Instead, you are saying that your boss will have to make a call as to whether it's reasonable to switch what you are working on.

One other approach you could try is that when you write such an email, try to imagine that you sent the original request, and that the request is important to your work. How would you feel about the reply you are sending?

  • Great point and your response is actually what my boss wanted me to do in the event this were to happen again. They didn't come to him about the issue and was completely unaware of it until they came to him with my reply and asked for me to just send them to him in the future so he can sort things out.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:18

A few bits strike me as problematic about that excerpt:

  • The phrase "the luxury of time" could imply that you think dealing with this problem is merely a "luxury", while the other person might consider it a necessity. From their point of view, you've just minimized something troubling. I would personally find this offensive; it's not really a "luxury" to get work done, is it? If you want to keep this general phrase, maybe switch it to simply

    the time at the moment

    which retains your original point without coming across the wrong way.

  • The ending "I am trying to get a high priority project done" could also be taken the wrong way, to imply that the other issue is low priority. Maybe this is a generous interpretation, but I don't think the phrasing helped. I'd be fine with it, but others - including your coworker - might not. A possible phrasing change would be

    I am currently trying to finish another important project that needs my full attention.

    This emphasizes both the importance of your main project and the fact that you're the one who has to do it; you can't (or shouldn't) merely delegate it to someone else (I assume).

  • The general brevity of it. I've . . . maybe done a poor job of this in emails I've written, and I've been making a point of fixing that lately. If that sentence is the only part of the email you've dedicated to addressing that concern, then that's going to come across as pretty rude.

Aside from replacing or removing those first two problematic phrases, I would suggest extending that excerpt a little bit more.1 You could, for instance, add on

I'll try to get to this when I have more time - feel free to email me again in a day or two, if I don't get around to it before then.

which shows that you do care about the problem and will help when you can. I do this when possible. It makes the other person feel good because they know you haven't forgotten, it makes you feel good because you've gone part of the way towards helping someone, and it makes your boss feel good because employees are helping one another and getting things done. It's a win-win-win!

Also, it won't hurt to mention this again to the coworker, if you happen to see them later, and just repeat why you can't help right now, but will be able to later.

I typically like to expand on this a bit by talking about what I'll do in the future. For instance, a lab partner recently emailed me asking if I had done any analysis yet on the spectroscopy data we'd gotten, and whether his calculations seemed right. Here's something I'm glad I didn't write:

No, I haven't. I'm working on the weekly problem set right now.

Instead, I wrote something along the lines of

Sorry, I haven't had time yet! I'll look into it in more detail tomorrow, but if you check the spectral lines at X, Y, and Z nm, you can get a good diagnostic of whether our lines fit the model. I'll get back to you when I test this out.

That's a bit more reassuring than the first choice, right?

If you want to ask your manager for feedback on your next email, that might not be a bad idea. They've pointed out a problem, and showing them that you're working on it builds trust more than anything else. Maybe this is overkill and maybe it's not; it's all up to you. Communication is really important. Make sure you get it right.

1 You've clarified that your original email contained a couple paragraphs talking about the problem! That's great; it looks like you did that right. Having only a brief email was my main concern at first. At this point, then, the only thing you need to worry about is the specific phrasing, as I talked about at the start of the answer.

  • 1
    Thanks HDE! The email in it's entirety was actually about 3 to 4 paragraphs... 3 of them were explaining my current take on the issue to provide help on the situation. The first was to explain I was busy and asking how important the task was. I do see your point though, Thanks for the tips!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:07
  • 1
    @ggiaquin16 Thanks for letting me know! I've expanded the other part of the answer, but I'm keeping the second section in case it proves useful to future readers.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:15

In direct answer to your "How can I improve my tone" question, here are some things that work for me:

  • Actually smile when you write the email.
    • This helps friendly up your actual intent, I have found.
  • Pretend the person is looking over your shoulder, and you are just putting an agreement in writing for the record.
    • Helps foster a collaborative tone.
  • Invite your co-worker to help find a way to get it all done.
    • You acknowledged that you had a "go away" feeling while writing the mail. Try acknowledging the issue head-on.

It is absolutely alright to set priorites, and for some things to crowd others off the schedule. Everybody is short of time, and everybody should understand this.

I hope these things help if you should try them.

FINALLY, look at this answer to see how I have softened the message, and tried to "meet you half way", establishing common ground. :-)


It's condescending because it says "My stuff is more important than your stuff."

A better approach would be to state in a fairly neutral way that you have a current priority which was assigned to you by (whatever authority set that priority for you) and ask the requester to send their request to (whatever authority sets your priorities for you).

The benefit of this is that it can't be interpreted as a macho contest between you and the requestor. It may turn out to be that your boss's stuff is more important than this other person's stuff, in which case it'll be up to your boss, not you, to communicate that in a graceful way. Or whoever it is who gave you your priorities.

It'll save you from making a statement which sounds like you're judging their need to be less important. That's what was condescending about it.

Keep this in mind, too: Unnecessarily flowery language very often carries unintended meanings.

"I'm not going to be able to do that before the name-of-project deadline" versus "I don't have the luxury, my work is high priority". For someone who "largely runs on the logical/factual side", you included some unnecessary messages there.

And you did so with language which invokes emotion ("luxury" evokes hedonism) and personal judgement (you all but called their work unimportant) rather than bare uninflected facts (your simple unavailability and lack of freedom to flex).

Keep it simple, use small words, it's less likely to result in unintended perceptions.


So, if you want to keep working there, you have a real issue.
If your manager has spoken to you twice about being perceived as rude to coworkers you have a problem, a big one, bigger than your technical problem. The problem isn't how others are interpreting your tone, the problem is with what you're writing.

Most of the other answers already posted are true and have good points.

Here are two I will emphasize:

  1. Being right/logical isn't an excuse for your tone.
    To put it bluntly: you are beginning to make your manager look bad at his/her job.

  2. Your attitude actually did come through on the email... accurately.
    What you actually thought, but didn't intend to write, came through to that person.
    Good news is - you aren't as bad at this as you thought (not sarcasm).

My advice:
The next time you have to write an email to someone you are annoyed with, hit reply, blank out the To and CC boxes, then write the email.
Save it as a draft and put something on your calendar to look at it an hour later.

After you calm down, reread it.
If you are not happy with it rewrite it. Repeat in an hour.

Once you are happy with it - print it out and take it to your boss. Say, something like, "I know I've previously had issues with my tone in emails. Can you look at this real quick and see if I have done better?" Don't get defensive about what s/he says - you want to make this about an opportunity for you to learn - be teachable!

I have been where you are.
You are possibly in much bigger trouble than you realize.

I was getting a lot of pressure ... while also holding some benefits hostage based on [the project's] completion.

I don't know what that means unless they're saying you can't take PTO until you're done. Either way, sounds like a good separate question for workplace.SE


  • There are some benefits we should automatically get after we have completed 1 year of service. I am now going on 2.5 years and they kept making excuses as why they kept pushing back the benefits (its nothing major like health care but still something of great value to most people). Basically told me if I get this project done in 2 weeks I can finally have it and I need to complete it fast because it involves a lot of income and for the company and all that stuff.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 15:45
  • Also, Thanks for the tip and I have to email a company about a project tomorrow. I plan on taking it to him as you said!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 15:50
  • 2
    Many answers have focused on one specific email exchange; this addresses the root cause in my opinion (and experience). Even if you don't have an hour to spend between writing and sending, a single re-read will help remove the snippy tone you didn't realize you had.
    – Tanaya
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 19:18

Here's the key principle you need: Focus on OTHERS. Good communication is optimized to the audience. Not the author. Just like readability is super important in source code when it comes to software. If you focus on others, you will naturally adapt your communication to them. (If you focus on others, your code will be simplified, too. I'm taking a guess - but I bet most juniors can't understand your code.) As needed, simplicity will be a by-product by focusing on others.

Let's analyze this sentence:

I just try to layout the information as concise as I can while being informative and cutting out the fluff.

Isn't "try" implied?

I layout the information as concise as I can while being informative and cutting out the fluff.

"as I can" is redundant if you're saying "try". And, like try, it's unneeded.

I layout the information concisely while being informative and cutting out the fluff.

If you say "I am concise" isn't "laying out information concisely" implied?

I am concise while being informative and cutting out the fluff.

You've already said concise. Why are you saying you cut out the fluff? Redundant. It's almost as if you are giving the definition of a word in the same sentence as the word, potentially implying people don't know the definition. People might be insulted by that.

I am concise while being informative.

We can shorten that further without sacrificing meaning:

I am concise and informative.

And now, to add a touch of style:

I am informative, yet concise.

And that was just one sentence. Your communication can be simplified. I suspect your verbosity is perceived as condescension.

I hope this felt condescending. That way you understand what this writing style feels like. Ironically I'm not trying to be. I don't feel any judgment toward you. In fact, my own tendency is to write like this. However, I changed. So you can you. I could dig in a lot more to what you said, but I'll stop here. (I've learned to not say too many points at once.)

Side note - be careful what you tell yourself: You told yourself you were concise and thus missed your verbosity.


Your response does come off as condescending, mostly because it gives off a "stop bothering me I don't have time for this" kind of vibe which may well be how you were feeling at the time.

It's easy to let that creep into your communications even if you don't mean it that way.

I don't think you need to fluff it up or baby the person who emailed you; but you can leave out how you feel and respond factually:

Hi Bob,

I'm tied up working on X, if this is urgent please let my boss know, otherwise I'll get to it soon as I can.

Short, sweet, factual, neutral, and non condescending. The key is to catch how you are feeling at the time and leave out any inkling of it, or any assumptions about their issue. Focus purely on when you can address it and nothing more - after all, this is all they really want to know.

This also gives your boss the option to make a call on priorities, since there's always the chance that this is more important than what you're working on.

  • I actually really like this suggestion, thanks!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 15:48

Answer: You need to sound apologetic, even (and perhaps especially) if you aren't.

In other words, don't cut the fluff. In fact, it sounds like you need to add extra fluff. You have inadequate fluff. This "fluff" is called "soft skills".

The line you report as having been flagged reeks of the "you are bothering me, go away" sort of attitude.

More or less, every similar request should be met with something like:

Hi Bob! Unfortunately, I've got very little bandwidth to take on new work. Would you mind coming by for a few minutes (or make a brief meeting) in order to discuss where your ask lines up compared to my current priority list to see if I can somehow wedge it in? Thanks!

This says:

  • You are busy (the "unfortunately" is the apologetic part, it says "I'm sorry" without actually saying "I'm sorry").
  • You are not unwilling to help. Likely, you have NO bandwidth, but you never say NO bandwidth, you always say "very little" bandwidth.
  • Other things may prevent you from helping.

"But that's what I said in my flagged sentence," you say.

No, you didn't. Break it down:

  • "I currently don't..." - this is non-negotiable and inflexible sounding. It might be true, but that's now how to communicate this.
  • "...the luxury of time..." - sounds snarky and sarcastic.
  • (the rest is likely OK, but completely ruined by the beginning bit)
  • I definitely see the difference, and to be honest I probably was feeling like "go away" kind of attitude. I was getting a lot of pressure to get this project done in a relatively unreasonable time frame while also holding some benefits hostage based on it's completion. I lost sight of being considerate for sure.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:16

Hi Bob, I currently don't have the luxury of time to look at the issue right now as I am trying to get a high priority project done.

I don't think you'd write that way to your mother or father, would you?

Even if you would, would you write that way if you were writing a condolence letter (e.g. to a war widow)?

The clearest example I've read, of different tones in writing, is Ursula LeGuin's Bryn Mawr Commencement Address (1986) -- I recommend that if only to see how much variety is possible -- and how to write in a way that seems familiar or close: rather than distant, and haughty, and trying to conceal emotions and long-term personal relationships and so on in favour of "objective truth".

Also, you didn't ask this (i.e. you only asked about "tone"), but the content isn't especially helpful either: it reads as criticism (i.e. "you're taking my time") but not as constructive criticism (i.e. what should they do instead?) -- you've left the reader at an impasse.

It might be more helpful to say something like, "I'm afraid it would take me me about 8 hours to research this properly before answering -- if you want me to, could you please schedule this with my manager? Because I don't think I could find the time, otherwise."


I am guessing that Bob was reaching out not because Bob expects you to drop everything, but because he needs to know when it will be looked at and done.

"Hi Bob, the issue you have reported is in our work queue and will be investigated by {ETA}, and based upon the findings an ETA for resolution will then be provided."

Lacking a ticketing system, project managers, or even team leads it becomes everyone's responsibility to manage work and communicate to the stakeholders. It isn't necessary to explain why competing work has been prioritized over Bob's request until Bob comes back with a response indicating he expects things to happen quicker than you stated.

In the meantime, you should consult your manager so that if Bob pushes back you are prepared to give an appropriate response which your boss will support. This is really a workplace matter so I won't go further on this and will get back to the communication style used.

Saying that you don't have the "luxury of time" will be poorly received because it is implying that you are the only one in the company that has to juggle balls. This will also likely be received as you having resentment against Bob. Although you didn't say "I don't have the luxury of time like you do", the recipient will likely fill that into the message.

Explaining that Bob's request is less important than other work likely puts the recipient off further. There are better ways to word it, but really I don't think you need to go there until Bob comes back to press for the request to be expedited.

But if you come to that bridge, that response should go something like "I understand this is important to you and it is important to us too. The challenge is that another project has been determined to be an immediate priority over requests of this nature."

I wouldn't go into further detail at that point and wait again to see if Bob pushes back further. If that happens though, it is time to talk Bob through the real business impact of his request. It is possible that your understanding of the problem has resulted in you and your team underestimating the importance. If that is the case then you might really need to put Bob's request as a priority. But talking Bob through the business impact of his request will also help Bob understand it really isn't higher.

A few more miscellaneous tips to mention. Throughout all communications, stay away from words and phrases that are aggressive and aimed at Bob. For example, referring to the issue as "your" issue or problem (You didn't do this, just making an example of what would be aggressive wording). Use empathy for Bob's position and likely Bob will also be empathetic to the position you are in. Use words and phrases that paint a picture of you and Bob being on the same team to solve this problem together without hurting the business elsewhere.

Bob may not care too much about the competing project. Have your ducks in a row so that if this gets escalated because you and Bob cannot agree on priority against the competing project that when it is kicked to people who do care about both, the decision goes in your favor. If that happens, you want Bob to reflect on your interactions has having been valiant attempts to help Bob avoid that escalation failing; and don't spike the football when that happens. Instead, take it as a learning opportunity with the goal of helping the next Bob avoid that same outcome.


You've already accepted an answer, and the wording itself has been analyzed to death by other answers, but I'm going to add this answer anyway because you may find it helpful. Specifically, I have 2 pieces of advice.


You intended your wording as factual. Let's say it has a neutral tone; that's what you intended. So where did the negative tone come from when the reader interpreted it? From the reader, obviously. Now the real question is "why?". Your reader could have read this with a positive or neutral spin. He could have given you the benefit of the doubt about perceived negative wording. He didn't.

Very often when I read emails, I hear the writer's voice in my head. With the writer's habitual tones and inflections. I suspect that either your F2F relationship with the reader or your reputation in the office led the reader to interpret your words negatively.

So in addition to all the other advice about how you could have worded this differently, I suggest you work on your relationships an reputation. Specifically, start by going to the reader, and apologizing for upsetting him or seeming to denigrate his project. Then start paying attention to your F2F interactions (in meetings, in the break room, the hall, ...) and make sure you're not always coming off as Dr. No. Look for opportunities to explicitly be nice.


A wise man once told me you can get away with saying almost anything if you say it with a smile. So consider literally adding in smiley faces to your emails when the tone might be misconstrued. And if you subsequently re-read and find that the smiley face is at odds with the words then it's a cue to re-work the wording.

  • Thanks! I have actually never met this person face to face before and have not communicated with them at all in general. Our departments are separate and in different buildings and we rarely interact. Otherwise, thank you for the tip. I do try to conduct myself with co-workers in a way that is helpful and approachable but maybe, I need to re-look at myself and see if what I think is, and what actually is, are 2 different things.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 15:41

Many other answers already correctly point out why what you said sounded rude. I want to address a more fundamental issue. There is a rule in communications that says the responsibility for people understanding the message is not a responsibility that is shared equally between the sender of the message and the recipient. Instead, the responsibility for a message being clear and unambiguous rests solely with the sender of the message. It is not up to the recipient of the message to try to determine what you intended. If something in you message can be interpreted in several different ways, don't blame the recipient if they took it in a different way than you intended it.

In your question you seem to want to justify your actions as "cutting out the fluff," but the problem is when you do this you can make your message shorter, but you increase the ambiguity of the message when you do so. The proper amount of effective redundancy in a message increases the likelihood that the recipient will interpret the meaning as you intended it. If you choose to not include that in the message then you are responsible for the fact that the recipient got a different message from the communication than the one that you intended. Clearly there will be times that no matter what you do the recipient will misunderstand the message, but you should attempt to minimize that.

Verbal softeners and politeness goes a long way toward creating the correct atmosphere wherein the recipient won't report your email as being rude, even if they feel that it was rude. If you choose to omit these, you do so at your own risk.

You seem to be avoiding taking ownership of the situation. If you don't correct this now, the next offense may result in the loss of your job, or a formal warning of some type. I strongly encourage you to fix this so that it does not happen again. I also encourage you to consider if it is in your best interest to remain working where you are now. To me it seems like your manager may be getting fed up with you, and could eventually just want to get you out of the organization. I'm not there, so I don't really have a way of knowing if this is the case or not, which is why I'm suggesting that you consider this possibility.

Perhaps you can enlist the assistance of a friend who works there to have them read over your emails before you send them out.


The solution, although it doesn't actually answer your question, is to forward the request to your boss and ask him to decide if it is a higher priority than the work you are currently doing. If it is not, he can choose to assign the work to someone else within your team or to go back to either the person asking for the work to be done or to that person's manager and explain that the department is too busy, at which point the managers can either argue it out or go to a more senior manager to arbitrate.

To turn round and answer a valid work request in a "no, I'm too busy" way is never going to not seem rude, condescending or (at best) weak. If the work needs doing then someone needs to do it.

If the request isn't valid (perhaps because the person requesting the work shouldn't actually be making requests of this type) then raising it with your boss (and thus indirectly the requester's boss) will stop the situation arising again.

  • 2
    Agree, and this is exactly what my boss wants me to do next time I am in the situation. However, that doesn't address the fact my word choice is still poor and what I wanted to focus on more :)
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 15:33

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