When I complain about the misuse of “Reply To All” or “cc:” in emails, heads nod in agreement and glaring examples are provided. It happens regularly because we don’t answer some basic but key questions.
Four Questions to Answer Before Responding To Emails:
1. Do I need to respond?
You don’t need to respond all the time. Sometimes you are just being updated or “kept in the loop.” Use judgment when deciding whether or not to respond. I’m not saying you can ignore emails. Simply use discretion to save everyone time.
2. What happens if I don’t include each person?
When you are writing an initial email, decide how each person will use the information. If it’s not obvious that they need the email, don’t cc: them.
When responding, you also don’t need to hit “Reply to All” if your response isn’t useful to each person on the email string. If you have a quick clarification or constructive feedback that involves only the sender, you probably shouldn’t cc: everyone.
I realize some readers might feel the need to cover themselves by including more people on emails. But you’re also wasting people’s time by unnecessarily creating cluttered email strings.
3. How would you handle it if you were having a face-to-face conversation?
When multiple people are emailed via the “To” box, you should “Reply to All” unless something is confidential to only the original sender. Think of what you would do in a real conversation. If someone said something to you and another person at lunch, would you respond by whispering in that person’s ear? Probably not. You’d likely talk to both people. Do the same thing in an email.
4. Does everyone on this email need the information to do their job?
When three or four people are working on a project and your response impacts them, remember to hit “Reply to All.” Forgetting to do so frustrates everyone who is left out and stifles productivity. The converse is also true. Don’t add people to the recipient list unless you’re sure they need the information to do their job.
You might think these tips are obvious or common sense. Take a quick look through your Inbox and Sent folder. You’ll realize it’s not as obvious or common as you think.
Do what you can to change things. Start asking and answering these four questions and improving your email communications.
Email me your favorite or should I say least favorite examples of people misusing the “cc:” or “Reply to All” and I’ll send you more tips on making the most of your email communications.