Advice for Idiots…Using “Reply All”

I’ve been working in an office environment for about a decade now. I know that’s not long by some standards, but I have been around to watch several trends expand and evolve as time progresses and more and more people realize what they can do with the tools provided.  Email isn’t a new feature, but for some reason people don’t seem to understand certain etiquette or common-sense approaches to using it.  That being the case I thought I’d offer some advice for idiots starting with the “reply all” feature.

Reply all is very useful when talking with a group about a single issue, even if some are included just to “stay in the loop” as it were.  It becomes a nuisance when people misuse the feature or don’t follow basic practices for use.  Here are some things that would make life easier when dealing with reply all:

1.)    Ask yourself: Is this an appropriate response for all to see? A lot of emails go out something like, “What does everyone think about X?” A slew of responses come back voicing their opinions on “X.”  This is fine.  But if you have a closer friend amongst the recipients of the email and want them to see that you think “X” is silly or make some inside joke about how “X” reminds you of “what she said” then you probably shouldn’t “reply all” that response…how about just reply to the individual you’re talking to…

2.)    If the conversation continues in a more focused manner does everyone need to continue to be included in the string? I have found typically the answer to be no.  Almost all the time.  The argument is that it’s “informational” so everyone knows what’s going on.  I’ve found that when most people are “reply all’d” unless they are directly involved they mostly ignore the email.  They think, “if it’s not directly to me, this might as well be spam.”

3.)    If you’re added to an email string late, PLEASE read the entire string before weighing in.  This one seems to be a no-brainer to me, but often I’ve been involved with a string that starts: “Hey I wanted to remind everyone ‘Y’ is still a problem.  ‘X’ seems to be ok but I’ll need to change it to make it work with the new system.”  Ten emails later a new person is added to a continuing conversation and is asked to weigh in on how to fix “Y.”  Their response includes, “I’ll look at ‘Y,’ a reminder though that ‘X’ looks fine but it will need to be changed to make sure it’ll work within the new system.”  Really!? Does it!?  Was that not present in the original statement?  Before you respond read the entire string so you know what needs to be said and what HAS been said.

4.)    Does the email string need a response at all or was it informational, if it DID need a response, did we all need to be copied?  Someone sends an email, “Wanted to let everyone know mail pickup is an hour early today.”  It goes to 30 people.  In response you, and EVERYONE in the original string, gets a reply all from 21 people that reads an insightful “ok.”  In the case of strictly informational emails needing no reply, senders please consider BCC as an option…

5.)    Don’t use an email that has a many individuals included to continue a private conversation, if you DO don’t Reply All.  Though it’s related to the first complaint I’ve seen this one specifically and frequently.  A genuine “reply all” string is resolved and begins to have a private conversation but continues to reply all.  Once the string is resolved, the rest of us don’t need to know where a group of you are going to lunch, or what you are doing over the weekend.

So what can you do?

First only send an email string with many recipients if it’s necessary.  Second, only reply to those who NEED the response.  Third, private conversations should be kept private amongst the appropriate respondents.  Fourth, pay attention to long strings.  If you’re included assume it’s for a reason and your advice should be included only after previous comments have been reviewed.  Fifth, if you’re a sender consider whether BCC accomplishes the same thing!

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