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To Reply All, or Not to Reply All?

December 20, 2013

That is the question. Okay, perhaps it’s not THE question, but it’s a question I had never really considered until I started working in an office. Now my work life largely consists of sitting at a desk sending emails, reading emails, or replying to emails of varying degrees of significance. Or worse, just WAITING for an email to come in so I have something to do.

In this brave new world of technology, we now have to learn and abide by a whole new scheme of cyber etiquette. In some ways, I’m a pro at this. I know better than to post super over-sharing facebook statuses five times a day, or to take a bunch of pictures of other people’s kids and put them online. I know to avoid using ALL CAPS and to always check to make sure you actually attached that attachment. But when it comes to my current job, I’m not always sure. No one wants to be that person who replies all and starts clogging everyone else’s inbox with a conversation they don’t actually care about.

reply allThough I rarely carbon copy anyone in my personal emails, at work cc-ing is a way of life. But the tricky part is knowing when to cc someone, and who exactly needs to be in the loop of this important or not so important email. I tend to avoid replying all because I’m often not entirely confident in what I’m saying. As the new person in the office, I don’t need half the people thinking I’m an idiot because they got cc’d on some email in which I made a mistake or was misinformed. But then again, if you don’t cc anyone, you run the risk of leaving someone out of the loop. I work closely with two other ladies in the office, one of whom recently left for a month long vacation. Since the other two of us would be covering her work while she was gone, we had plenty of talks together about what the status of different projects was, and exactly what we needed to do. It was all hunky-dory until a few days ago, when we went to order a banner and realized we didn’t actually have the file we needed. Apparently, neither of us had been cc’d when the final version had been sent over to our coworker. And, since we couldn’t access her computer to look for it, we had to retrace the chain of command and ask the designer to send us the file again. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it would have been so easily avoided if that one little email had been sent to us in the first place.

After this little fiasco, my other coworker took to cc-ing me with renewed gusto. Suddenly I was in the loop on every email she wrote. But she got into the habit of doing that so much that one day she accidentally cc’d me on a personal email between her and another friend. Luckily there was nothing sensitive in the email, and neither party really cared. It was good for a laugh, but it just goes to show that the simple, almost mindless act of sending an email can be more complicated than I ever thought before.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter if you follow the email laws perfectly when communicating among equals, but what about when it comes to emailing the boss? Our boss has told my coworker and me to only copy him on important matters, because otherwise his name being on the email will lose its power to motivate people. Well, that, and also because he gets hundreds of emails a day and doesn’t have time to read all our mundane exchanges. I get it, and I try not to include him unnecessarily, but I’m always conflicted, because I assume he wants to be informed about what’s going on. I don’t want to overstep myself by making decisions that he should rightfully weigh in on. I’m just a lowly office worker.

The real problem is that I still feel like a newbie rather than a professional. I can’t help but feel that I’m a high school English teacher masquerading as a “Communications and Planning Analyst.” Oh well, the good news is I’m about to take a 5 month hiatus from this job while I finish my Master’s degree, so my emailing days are numbered. Maybe by the time I come back, if I come back, I’ll have figured out the magic formula and know when to reply and when to reply all.

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