You can tell a great deal about how people see themselves by the way they e-mail. Or at least the way they WANT to see themselves--or be seen by others. You may work with some people whose e-mails tend to come across a bit snarky, rude, or devoid of human personality altogether.

Others may write their e-mails with so many exclamation points and unicorn emoticons it seems more like an e-mail from a very young person or someone whose greatest fear is to offend you in any way.

Personally, I would rather receive an e-mail from the latter. At least this person is seeking to be friendly in their communication. In fact, I tend to e-mail closer to the latter style, too. I struggle with "people-pleasing." I have a thing about never wanting to offend or hurting anyone's feelings when that is never my goal. Women may have a tendency to struggle with this more than men.

At the same time, there's a balance point at which it would be wise to aim. I will probably always add an emoticon from time to time, especially if I'm e-mailing someone I sincerely like. And I've decided that's okay--because that's just me being myself.

In an effort, though, to inch closer to that professional balance between rude and perhaps a bit too whimsical, let's review some examples of potential responses you may want to consider. We'll categorize them as aggressive, passive and the more balanced response--friendly, but assertive.

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Aggressive: Where the heck are we on this project, guys?

Passive: Just wanted to check in and see how it was going?

Assertive: Let me know when I can expect an update. 

Notice how the aggressive e-mail sounds a bit accusatory? That may lead to a defensive response from your colleagues. (Either TO you or privately in their own minds.) That's counter-productive.

The passive e-mail sounds too tentative. It reeks of over-concern about being a "bother." That can lead to colleagues taking a dismissive POV in the future. Also--counterproductive.

The assertive, but friendly e-mail strikes the balance. It's a strong statement asking for a definitive response without coming across as snarky. See the difference?

Take a look at a couple more example and take note of how each evokes a different tone:

Aggressive: Do you get what I'm saying finally?

Passive: I really just hope what I've said makes any sense whatsoever to you? :):):):)

Assertive: Let me know if you have any questions! 

And one more:

Aggressive: Listen to me, I know what I'm doing.

Passive: I really think maybe we should ____? Would that be okay with you? :/

Assertive: It'd be best if we considered ______ as a viable option. 

There are so many different scenarios.

Those who tend to write passively: Don't be over apologetic in your e-mails. Don't say "I'm sorry" unless you've actually done something wrong. Do your best to state your response clearly and without coming across as seeking emotional validation and/or permission.

If you tend toward aggression: Remember your emails are going to actual human beings with their own intelligent ideas. Treat them as such.

The friendly, but assertive email is the most conducive to win-win situations. Information is communicated clearly and both your, and their, self-respect can be left in tact.

Does that make any sense whatsoever? :):):):) 

Kidding, kidding. ..... 

;)