So, I just made that up. But I truly believe that this is becoming an epidemic due in no small part to the heads-down “connected” culture that we are all a part of today. There is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation, where there are real consequences for bad behavior, innuendos, or blatant and excessive criticism. In the digital world, though, those rules do not apply. Emails are ripe with innuendos, and unlike face-to-face conversations, people do not typically wait to calm down before hastily typing a digital message that embodies their real and present, but short-lived, emotional state.
Sending emails or other digital communications is only half of the problem, though. The other half of the problem is quickly and accurately detecting the emotional state of the person who sent. The ability to assess this is critically important so that you can properly disarm them and have a meaningful and constructive conversation.
Even through digital communications, there are always hints of the composer’s state of mind. If you are angry, you might choose the more negative of two synonyms. Your precise choice of words draws a subtle picture in the reader’s mind. And this is where the passive-aggressive behavior comes into play. Whether we intend to or not, our choice of words tells just as much a story as the literal meaning behind them. The subtle nature of that information, makes it a passive, yet aggressive, form of communication. In summary, treat digital communications the same way you would face-to-face communications. Pause if you are upset. And when you do write something, choose your words carefully so as to not fall into the trap of becoming passive-aggressive. Be direct, and be professional and/or considerate.