Everyone has had the experience where they meant to send a private response to someone in a group email, but accidentally hit “reply-to-all.” If we were lucky, it was a limited mistake and only a minor annoyance. If we were less fortunate, it might have been the type of mistake that was extremely embarrassing. We’ve heard cautionary tales of someone being fired over an indiscreet email response. Whether it’s limited to being annoying, or it becomes an email storm or email apocalypse, depends on what was said and who saw it.
The key to preventing a reply-to-all mistake is to take this seriously. In a business setting, even an innocent reply-to-all comment can waste company and staff time. There are documented stories about large organizations being involved in epic waste of work time because someone inadvertently replies to a huge group and some of the recipients, in turn, reply back to everyone with low value comments or asking to be unsubscribed from the group….which of course then causes others to ask to be removed. Unnecessary “reply-to-all” responses creates a huge whirlwind of wasted time and lost productivity, in addition to annoying a lot of people. Think about this: when you reply-to-all, you are sending a message to dozens or hundreds of people. Here are two examples of outcomes from a reply-to-all mistake:
- Your message – which has no meaningful value to the recipients — goes out to 60 people, and each person takes one minute to open, read and process the message. You have caused one hour of cumulative work to evaporate by a single, careless reply-to-all. Companies communicate by email to save time, but the reply-to-all mistake can be a major productivity killer.
- Or, in the worst case scenario, your email message ridicules or criticizes a boss, colleague, or customer, and you might have thought it would be okay to share your thoughts directly with a friend. But the reply-to-all click sends the same comment to everyone on the email group, perhaps even the person the comment was about. That type of group email certainly won’t do you any favors when it comes time for your annual review.
So if you’re replying to a group message and only some of the people need to see your answer, as a courtesy, simply remove the group members not affected or use the BCC field to copy people. Either way, work to avoid risking their exposure to a reply-to-all storm.
Just like proofreading or ensuring the address field didn’t autofill with the wrong recipient, take extra moments to be sure your outbound email is sent only to the intended parties. And avoid unnecessary email replies.
These extra steps can be both a work courtesy and a career saver.
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