6 Ways To Guarantee To Offend, Anger & Annoy With Every Email You Send

Ryan Dube 20-09-2012

offensive emailsEmails are tough. It is really hard to get across what you really want to say in an email, and half the time people will almost always misunderstand you. A lot of the problem comes down to the fact that the people you’re writing to can’t see your face. They can’t see the smile on your face, and you can’t see the expression on their face – the natural human ability to understand the emotion in words through facial expression is completely void in an email.


So, what can replace facial expression and tone of voice? How do you effectively get your message across without getting all of your friends or everyone in the office royally ticked off at you?

Writer Peter Drucker once wrote, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” I would go one step further than that, and say that the most important thing in sending an email is clarifying just enough so that the recipient doesn’t hear what isn’t said. In fact, what causes most problems with email communication is when the person receiving the email interprets all sorts of terrible things that you’ve implied, even when you’ve only written a single line.

This is what leads to hate and discontent. This is what builds resentment. This is why the guy across the table at the morning meeting is glaring at you, because you had cc’d him on an email that you sent out yesterday afternoon, and he took it as a personal attack.

Crafting Your Perfect Email

Here at MUO, we’ve covered a lot about the technical aspect of sending emails, like sending emails anonymously How to Send Anonymous Emails: 5 Stealthy Methods To send an anonymous email isn't hard. And there are legitimate reasons to use an anonymous email account. We show you how. Read More or my email on sending emails from Excel How to Send Emails From an Excel Spreadsheet Using VBA Scripts Our code template will help you set up automated emails from within Excel using Collaboration Data Objects (CDO) and VBA scripts. Read More . But, what about the emotion side of email? What about how you come across in your emails, and better ways to present yourself in the written word that won’t get everyone so ticked off at you all the time?

Well, it isn’t without a whole lot of pain and suffering that I can stand here today and tell you that I am now in a position to help. I’ve made just about every mistake that can be made with email, starting from the earliest days at college, when I attempted to start off a multi-level marketing business by mass-emailing everyone on campus. Within a day, I had my account shut down for 24 hours and a big, nasty warning from the IBM mainframe administrator about what defines “spamming”.


It wasn’t so much a lesson in email etiquette, as it was a wake-up call that email can really get you in trouble if you handle it wrong. Through the years I’ve offended people, I’ve got offended, and I’ve got into epic slash-and-burn word-battles with people. I’d like to say someone won – but no one ever wins. That is why I stand here today, hoping to help future legions of the emailing public better prepare those emails before clicking the send button.

1. Sending a Novel

One of my first guilty sins when I first started working as an engineer was that I would almost always write emails that stretched out across three or four paragraphs. The reason was not only because I can type pretty fast, but because I always felt like if I left any details out, people wouldn’t really understand what I was talking about. That may be true to some degree – and we’ll get to emails that are too-brief in a minute – but there’s something to be said for simplicity.

offensive emails

When you write such complicated emails, you are failing to get your message across in a variety of ways. First, the fact that you wrote so much implies to the person that you have little respect for their time, and if you do it too often you’re bound to get them annoyed. Second, while a 500 word email organized into several paragraphs makes plenty of sense to you, you’re most likely confusing everyone – and giving them a migraine.


If you’re a wordsmith and tend to over-write, then always go back and get to work on “chopping up” those sentences. Come up with new and creative ways to shorten them, or maybe you can remove them entirely. Maybe you’re offering far too much information. Tell people what they need to know, not what you want them to know you know. You know?

2. Sending a Two-Word Email

The opposite offense to the novel email is the one or two word emails that doesn’t explain anything at all. It’s akin to when I ask my kids at the dinner table, “So how was your day?”  After a moment, a reluctant answer, “Fine.”  Not sure why I even bother, I press on.  “What did you do, anything fun?”  The inevitable answer, “No, not really.

I honestly don’t understand why some people even bother with using email. If you’re lucky, an email from this person will contain a single full sentence. If you’re unlucky, the person will be asking you to do something for them, but not bothering to explain exactly what they want you to do. It’s sort of like sending out a distress message over a radio when you’re lost in the middle of the wilderness, and failing to inform the rescue crew what your coordinates are.

annoying emails


It’s extremely frustrating, because people have to struggle to understand what on earth you’re talking about. Even worse, you may actually force them to waste time responding to your email, only to ask you to elaborate a little bit more.

I suspect that most people with this problem write such short emails because typing is such a painstaking exercise. Not everyone can type over 60 to 70 words a minute, so you do have to have a little sympathy for this group.

3. Sending a Mass Email Meant For One Person

Do you really want to tick people off? Send a mass email to everyone in your office simply to reprimand a single person for something they did wrong. I call this the “public humiliation” email. Usually, everyone in the office may already know that a particular person made a mistake, but the manager can’t leave it alone. So, they send out a mass email to everyone explaining in great and excruciating detail why a particular action is so wrong to do, or why that particular mistake is so bad.

annoying emails


I have to admit that in some of my management roles in the past, I slipped into this behavior. I’ve seen other colleagues of mine do it as well. It’s an easy mistake to make, because you may actually want to make sure that everyone else you’re managing doesn’t make the same mistake. The reality is that if everyone already knows about it, the person that made the mistake is humiliated. If they don’t know about it, everyone is confused and unsure whether or not you’re talking about them.

Make it simple – talk about the specific problem with the person that made the mistake. Then, if you feel it’s important enough for everyone, send a notice but make it sound as though it is just a general “FYI” sent down from higher management – this removes the accusatory tone and makes it less personal.

4. Using Dramatic Adverbs

Another very common behavior in emails – usually from people that are very passionate about their work in general, or about a specific project that is under discussion. That behavior is the overuse of very dramatic adverbs. Sentences like, “That design is just horribly wrong” or “That approach is painfully vague” only serve to introduce emotion into the discussion.

When you look at those sentences without the adverbs, you can see how much more businesslike – and much less antagonistic – they are. Otherwise, you just come across like an over-dramatic, spoiled brat.

annoying emails

Try it without the adverbs. That design is wrong. That approach is vague.

It may not please the recipient – but it also doesn’t attack them and set them on the defensive. It’s more professional, and you might actually be able to pass yourself off as a mature adult, even when you’re disagreeing with someone.

5. Overusing Passive Voice

It actually wasn’t until late in my writing career that I really, truly learned about and understood the passive voice. The problem with learning about it, is that you start seeing it everywhere. One of the most prevalent uses of passive voice is in email, because the passive voice allows a person to separate themselves from an action.

Instead of saying, “I drove the client to the airport”, which lays the responsibility directly upon your shoulders, you might instead write, “The client was taken to the airport.”

email tips

This is a behavior common among people that are nervous about taking responsibility for just about anything, because if anything goes wrong, they don’t want to be blamed. These are the same people that complain when the risk-takers – the ones that take responsibility for getting things done – get recognition or promotions. The truth is, people see through the passive voice in emails. If you’ve finished a task or accomplished a goal, don’t be afraid to take credit!

6. Patting Yourself On The Back

Oddly enough, the opposite extreme of the folks who use passive voice in email all the time, are the people that almost always write about everything in first person. Reading their emails, you would think that a project wasn’t a group effort, it was a personal accomplishment. You would think that the person sending the email did absolutely all of the work!

How do you recognize these emails? Count the occurrences of the word “I”.

offensive emails

Reading an email from this type of person, it’s clear that they feel the entire world revolves around them, and that everyone should be giving them constant kudos for all of the work they’ve single-handedly accomplished. These emails invariably leave teammates feeling dejected and completely unappreciated. This approach is the fast-track to anger and isolation from  your peers.

I’m sure there are lots of other types of emails that really annoy and offend people. I bet you have your own list too! What sorts of emails really set you off? Which types are your pet peeves? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Concentrated Businessman via Shutterstock, Maths Formula via Shutterstock, Young Businesswoman via Shutterstock, Expressive Senior via Shutterstock, Military Kid via Shutterstock, Shame via Shutterstock

Related topics: Email Tips, Online Etiquette.

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  1. Str8 to trash
    October 18, 2012 at 8:20 am

    My sister in law does this.
    She send us long novel like emails, all in the first person.
    And ends with a one liner asking about us.

    Not only does she not respect our time, she thinks we are missing out on her life.
    when quite clearly, we don't keep in touch for a reason.

    Xmas, Birthdays?
    The emails will come thick and fast, now we just send them straight to trash.

    Can't deal with it anymore.

    • Tina
      October 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      I think Ryan was referring more to professional email, where the point is to get a message across and not waste anyone's time.

      In private emails, I find 'novel' or old school letter type emails perfectly acceptable. It's all about catching up and sharing the story of life. Your sister-in-law is probably hoping to hear from you guys as well.

      However, if you feel like she is wasting your time and if you don't care to hear from her, maybe you should communicate it to her, rather than trashing her emails. Personally, I find this incredibly rude.

  2. Ed
    October 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

    A real pain are the emails where the sender resorts to "pseudo-reply" a former unrelated email he received from you, just to have your address placed in the To: field, without having to go to the Address Book, and doesn't cares enough to delete the former contents before writing the current message. Sometimes they do not even care to change the contents of the Subject: field !!!
    Another hard to swallow behavior is when someone not even cares to at least acknowledge personal emails he receives. That is extremely rude, I think, and many considerate, otherwise polite people, do that all the time.

  3. Todd
    September 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Well written article. A well written e-mail takes time, that is usually ignored. I have been guilty of doing all 6 at some point. But thank you for reminding us to take the time to think before we send.

    • Ryan Dube
      October 5, 2012 at 12:20 am

      Yes, slowing down and taking time is key. :-)

  4. HLJonnalagadda
    September 23, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Very well said. Thanks for the article!

  5. Patrick Wiegand
    September 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Sometimes you have to tell someone they have done something wrong. I find it helps to first state a few things you liked about their work. It puts things in better perspective for both parties. As you said, better to keep these emails private. On the other hand if someone does something right, especially if it helps you, broadcast as appropriate. Never hurts to share a thank you, and credit shared translates into a willingness to help on the next project.

    • kj
      September 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      Very well said! If more people commented on positives over negatives, I honestly believe the world, let alone the work world, would be a better place!
      Thank you!

    • Rocky
      October 4, 2012 at 3:45 am

      Try telling them in person. OVERUSING e-mail is a huge flaw, and can not only damage relationships, it can make you out to be a big jerk. If you need to correct someone in a professional environment, have the courage to do it in person. There are so many reasons this is better than e-mail.

      If you really need a written record, then have the conversation in person and follow it up with a professionally-written e-mail that affirms the agreements you reached in your conversation.

      • Ryan Dube
        October 5, 2012 at 12:19 am

        You have a good point, although I do see the written version as critical, so if taking the personal approach, following up with an email is really important - otherwise there's no record the conversation ever actually happened.

    • Ryan Dube
      October 5, 2012 at 12:18 am

      True - softening the blow with positive statements really does work, and it makes the criticism feel "not that bad" in comparison.

  6. loriwessel
    September 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Well done article. I personally am a big fan of being short and right to the point. Bullet points are an easy way to highlight the most important details of your email. However, I almost always start or end the email with a friendly, personal comment directed to the recipient.

    To those email recipients who are over sensitive to email content - get a back bone and stop over reacting to everyone and everything!

  7. Steve Montgomery
    September 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Here's another annoying habit (at least for me). I'm not a grammer Nazi, but it bugs me to no end to try to ferret the meaning from a business email containing butchered spelling, non-existent punctuation and ridiculously inappropriate abbreviations.

    Nothing says, "im stuk on stupd" better than those emails...

    • Paul Wright
      September 21, 2012 at 1:49 am

      Do you mean like 'grammar'?

      • g...
        September 21, 2012 at 3:36 am

        priceless! bwahaha

      • Steve Montgomery
        September 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm

        And another Nazi willingly steps into the obvious trap...

        • Red
          September 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm

          Obvious trap! How about 'whoops, I got it wrong'.

    • Ryan Dube
      October 5, 2012 at 12:17 am

      Agreed - save the shorthand for texting!

  8. macwitty
    September 20, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    You forgot
    Forward all "funny" email you get to all in your addressbook

    • Dave Parrack
      September 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm

      Something computer noobs (especially parents) seem especially fond of doing.

    • Dave Parrack
      September 20, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      I recognize all of these... and I have been guilty of sending them all :O

    • Ryan Dube
      October 5, 2012 at 12:17 am

      Agreed - although I feel like chain emails are a far greater offence. Can't stand those.

  9. GrrGrrr
    September 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    rightly said.
    I also prefer short, & precise emails to convey message.

    I use novel-type only to buy time ;)