A note to the general public about email correspondence.
Unless you have a solid reason to do otherwise, always give people the benefit of the doubt if you think they've made a mistake (and make that clear in your phrasing). People do make mistakes, and you can point out that an error has occurred and needs to be fixed without automatically assigning blame or attributing bad motives to people. (And then, if it turns out the mistake is yours, you won't have egg on your face.)
When you use passive aggressive language, it's rude and unhelpful. It's naturally frustrating when mistakes happen because they take effort and time to fix, but it doesn't help to vent your frustration by writing haughtily to the person you think made the mistake.
That said, it's easy to sound like an asshole through email, so when you receive a passive aggressive email (as I sometimes do), it's also good to remember that the emailer might not realize how terrible and entitled they sound.
In today's emailing saga, someone did not give me the benefit of the doubt, and although a mistake had been made, it wasn't mine (though even if it was my mistake, I'd certainly prefer a polite email). But I remembered my emailing rules and resisted the temptation to write a passive aggressive email back asserting my blamelessness, and instead simply explained in calm, kind language what my understanding of the situation was and how I thought the error could best be fixed.
I remembered that kind communication means thinking about the fact that there is a person on the other side reading those words, and it won't do any good to use accusatory language toward them just because they used it towards me.
Situations like this remind me that I have such a frail ego. I am sensitive and attentive to what people say, so when someone issues an unwarranted or unhelpful criticism, I rush to defend myself. But I need to remember that you don't fight fire with fire, and protecting myself cannot mean attacking someone else.
If I want to be a free and emotionally generous person, I need to remember that when someone doesn't give me the benefit of the doubt, it reflects poorly on them and not on me. I am trustworthy, I am kind (and when I am not, I own that and apologize).
But if I follow my gut reaction (to become defensive), this has the opposite effect and sets me on a trajectory of personhood that I don't want.
I don't want to be that person writing passive aggressive emails. I want to be that person addressing the world as though it were me. Because the world is me and I am the world. And I want, need, and deserve the warmth of generous faces.
With that in mind, here are some practical tips for sounding like a kind animal instead of a rude one.
Step 1: Write a Positive Intro
Getting straight to the issue is abrupt and sounds rude. Imagine you haven't spoken with someone in a day or two, and then they walk into a room and you immediately start to articulate a problem without greeting them first. It feels weird, like you bypassed their personhood. Start with a greeting or thanks:
Thanks for all the work you've done on planning this event. We're looking forward to it.
I hope this finds you well and that everything's coming along smoothly for the conference.
Step 2: State the Issue without Accusatory Phrasing
When you bring up the issue, avoid wording that implies the problem was the result of someone's maliciousness or incompetence. Avoid anything that sounds like you could flawlessly insert phrases like "you incompetent buffoon!" and have the basic structure remain intact:
The schedule you sent is different from what's on our calendar. I specifically asked that the Florida speakers be scheduled in the morning and NOT after 12pm so that they could make their flights [but you didn't listen, you inattentive moron]. I thought this had been understood [you buffoon].
(Generally speaking, passive voice tends toward sounding passive aggressive because the object refuses to directly address the subject. The speaker won't take responsibility for her action or directly implicate the person to whom she speaks in the act of communication.)
Try a more generous tone such as this:
As I was looking over the materials you sent, I noticed that the scheduled time slots for the speakers are different from what I think we agreed to in our original correspondence. I'm not sure where the miscommunication took place, but I am hoping we can fix this together.
Step 3: Conclude with Thanks and Good Faith Expectations
Someone made a mistake or created a problem. Maybe it was you, maybe it was them. Maybe it was both. But for better or for worse, you have been collaborating on something together, and it's better to work toward a solution than to stay fixated on your annoyance at the problem. Someone has failed in some way, yes. But rather than making them feel bad about failing, you can give them the chance to make it right or correct their mistake, and extend your willingness to help make it right. Don't use language that reinforces that person's identity as a mistake-maker, but instead offer them a chance to reinforce their identity as a person who grows, changes, and can become better. Avoid:
I will have to call the speakers myself and fix this. If the change of schedule ends up incurring further costs for flight changes, know that your organization will be billed for the increase.
Instead, try something that gives the person the opportunity to handle the issue, expecting that the person will deliver or accept your help if they feel they can't:
I'd be happy to reach out to the morning speakers myself if that would be helpful, but if you'd prefer to handle this yourself, I'm happy for you to do so.