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How and When to 'Reply All'

May 24, 2011  

The "reply all" button can produce all kinds of headaches—from filling inboxes with unnecessary chatter to damaging a brand's reputation. "Unwitting or careless use of reply all spawns much mischief," writes Simon Glickman of Editorial Emergency, "from the accidental broadcasting of remarks intended for only select recipients to the dreaded 'e-storm,' whereby an innocent note to the wrong list unleashes wave after wave of indignant, 'helpful' and other replies."

So how do you balance "reply all"'s negative potential with the need to keep your colleagues in the loop? Consider this advice:

  • Before hitting "reply all," take a few seconds to consider how your comment actually adds to the conversation. That witticism, zinger or praise—however clever or complimentary—might be irritating in the context of a public forum.
  • If multiple recipients don't need to see everyone else's feedback, prevent a flurry of inbox-clogging responses with an explicit request not to reply all.
  • Remove the temptation to reply all—hide addresses in the BCC field.

Most important, though, don't start flame wars by giving public smackdowns when others violate the etiquette you so carefully observe.

"I sometimes even draft such responses in high dudgeon, hammering out a few paragraphs of doctorly derision before the better angels of my nature touch down on the delete button," admits Glickman. "The impulse to burn someone publicly is sometimes overpowering, but I've never regretted resisting it."


The Po!nt: Avoid the pitfalls of "reply all" email conversations by keeping it professional and business-like; in the process, your colleagues might just get the clue.

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