How to P*** People off in Emails

Emails are great. How did we manage without them? I’m only being slightly sarcastic here, because emails have become a critical element of work communications in the 21st century, but we can be swamped by them, resulting in missed request and information unseen.

Hence, an important part of communications skills training is learning how to write emails so you don’t annoy the recipient, and actually get the reply you want – or even get a reply at all.

There are three common ways that you can annoy someone with email communications:

  • ignore requests;
  • don’t address the sender when you reply – just go straight into the message, or miss out the salutation;
  • ‘shout’ at them.
  1. Dealing with requests (when you’ve no time) – or, the art of writing ‘Holding Emails’

Imagine you’re seeking information or clarification on something, so you fire off an email and nothing comes back. You wait a day, maybe two. Perhaps even a week later, zilch. Radio silence. What are you thinking? It’s a bit like being ignored. Actually, it’s completely like being ignored and maybe you are.

Now, let’s look at this as if you’re the recipient. The sender may have requested copies/PDFs/figures/data etc and you just can’t get round to it at the moment. It’s really not the most important task on your ‘to do’ list, what with seeing clients, meetings, collating data for someone else blah, blah, blah, and there’s another 102 emails in your inbox that you have to sort through.

So, this is where ‘Holding Emails’ come in. Personally, I lerrrrvvvvve them. Here’s why:

  • they’re a way of making sure the sender knows s/he is on your radar and attention will be given to their needs;
  • the recipient still gets to maintain task priorities.

So here’s an example of how you’d write a holding email:

“Thanks for your email, Guy. I can collect the data that you need for Friday. Will that be OK?”

I know, Holding Emails aren’t exactly literary masterpieces.

You don’t need an MBA to learn this.

Despite their ease, so few people write these vital messages. It takes half a minute to write and shows you have read and acknowledged the sender’s email. In this example, the chances are that the suggested day will be fine. If not, you can negotiate another time before someone throws a wobbly/their laptop at you. Habitually ignoring requests from colleagues will mean that you’re not a ‘go-to’ person and this will undermine their trust in you. The benefits of sending a Holding Email therefore are as follows:

  • they show you as organised, courteous and know how to manage your time;
  • they convey that you appreciate the importance of the requests of others and can balance these against your own priorities, ie. you are a good team member;
  • they demonstrate you can be trusted. Consequently, this helps build respect and team cohesion;
  • when you’re in need of a bit of assistance somewhere down the line, it’s more likely to come your way, rather than your plea being brushed under the carpet.

As you can see, Holding Emails are so simple and beneficial to both the recipient and author that there’s no reason why you can’t fire one off as soon as the moment arises.

  1. Not addressing the recipient or avoiding a salutation

Short, sharp and aggressive emails addressed to no one in particular aren’t very diplomatic, and while the sender might have wanted to come across as assertive, it may simply look petulant and rude, and wouldn’t ultimately solicit much help or cooperation from colleagues.

Take this example from Pat:

From:  Pat Leary

To: Fin

As I told you yesterday, Finn is dealing with resourcing for the Pharma project.



If you received message like this, would it strike you as diplomatic and assertive or aggressive and petulant? Would you want to make Pat a cup of tea or taser her?

This is actually taken from a real email but I’ve changed names to protect the guilty, who’s rudeness was the subject of so many complaints that she was eventually fired.

Notice, how she starts with no salutation: ‘Hi’ would have been fine if she was too angry to manage a ‘dear’. Then, she goes straight in for the kill.

There’s the other factor of “As I told you”. That sounds rather patronising, inferring Finn may have been too stupid to take it in the first time. It would have been better if Pat had attached the original email with the statement, “As you’ll see below, Finn is dealing with resourcing.” See? Much easier to swallow.  For more common phrases that aggravate and what to write instead, go here.

Furthermore, Pat doesn’t use Finn’s name.

While emails can be used on an informal basis, sometimes adopting the style of Instant Messaging (IM), the basic use of names and salutations is at least a starting point in addressing people professionally.

If you’re in an ongoing conversation thread on the same topic with an individual, we now often treat this as an Instant Message (IM), cutting straight to the message and skipping the salutation. This is now considered the norm. Do remember though, that if you’re starting a new topic with the same person, begin with a greeting, which of course, should include the name of the recipient.

So no plain, ‘Hi!’ but ‘Hi, Michael/whoever”

In a slightly longer email, mention the name again at the end, at roughly 140 words in. This gives the recipient a lovely warm glow of love: professionally, of course, in the sense that there’s something more personal and direct about being named at the beginning and in the body of an email. It’s less robotic and formulaic, possibly engendering a more cooperative response.

If you want something done, what better way than to build some rapport? Because we’re more likely to do something for someone we like. Human nature. And even if you were to turn the heat up if this didn’t work, I’d still use the person’s name at the end as it makes the message more direct and more personal.

  1. Using CAPITALS


There’s really no need to write in all capitals; it’s amateurish, condescending and is proven to be very difficult to read compared to standard lowercase language, so your message will become lost and diluted anyway. You can assert yourself through the power of direct and courteous language. If you need help, hey, you know where I am. SO JUST GET IN TOUCH! (or ‘just get in touch!’)

Your Action:

  1. Start adding the name of the recipient in those lengthier messages.
  2. Use Holding Emails to manage your time and the requests of others.
  3. Turn to the exercise here to help you get the tone right in your emails.


What specifically annoy you with email communication? Is it the way people sign off?  Maybe, being addressed in a certain way?  Let me know in the comments.



Now you’ve got a grip on some of the common misunderstandings with ‘tone of voice’ in emails.  Get much more help with your communications skills via my communication courses, so get in touch today for more information.

This article was originally published in November 2012 and was updated in September 2023.

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