Email. It's not that hard! So why are we always running into communications snafus because someone forgot to take someone else out their reply? And when this inevitably happens, what's the proper way to deal with it?Here's a mini guide to three common scenarios involved with "reply all": When you should do it, what happens when someone else doesn't do it, and what happens when someone accidentally does it.
When should you reply all?
Knowing when to reply to everyone is actually pretty straightforward. Take a look at the email that was sent to you. Is there someone in the CC field? Yes? In that case, then you should reply all. This will be the correct choice 9 times out of 10. If a person went to the trouble of adding someone to the CC field, that means they want that person (or persons) to be a part of this conversation, or they want them to know exactly what's being said in your exchange.
When shouldn't you reply all?
There are the exceptions to any rule. Here are a few reply-all exceptions when you should not reply all:
- If your response is not relevant to everyone on the email, like a quick aside, branching out from the main conversation
- If the conversation has evolved to a point where it's no longer relevant to one or more people CC'ed
- If you're making a joke, especially at the expense of someone CC'ed
That's pretty much it. If someone's a part of the email chain, they should stay there unless there's a good reason to take them off. In fact, if you use Gmail, you can go into Gmail Labs (Gear icon, top right, then click "Labs" in the dropdown) and enable the "Default Reply to all" lab. That way all your replies will default going back to everyone, and you can adjust when necessary.
If you need a helpful visual reminder, install our Shame Insurance extension for Chrome (pictured at right).
What should you do when someone else forgets to reply all?
It's frustrating when you've CC'ed someone and the reply comes back only addressed to you. If this is the first transgression, just quietly re-CC the person in your reply — there's no need to make a big stink about it yet. If you want to provide a polite hint so it doesn't happen again, make a mention of the person you've CC'ed in the email body itself, which hopefully draws the attention of the recipient to the fact that someone else is on this email.
However, sometimes the people you're emailing with aren't as experienced at email, or they just don't care enough to check the CC fields. For these repeat offenders that consistently refuse to reply all, the nice thing to do is to add something like, "Oh, and let's keep Adam Pash here in on this email thread so he knows what's going on/doesn't feel left out." A little more direct, but not exactly hostile.
How about people who STILL refuse to reply all? It's up to you how far you want to take it. Some people are just oblivious to the world around them, in which case, there's not really anything you can do except to keep re-CCing people every time you reply. You can also try and avoid emailing or dealing with these people to begin with. People who are oblivious — or even inconsiderate, if you want to go that far — in one aspect of their life probably are in others as well. (Or, you can just send them a link to this post and hope that drives the hint home.)
What should you do when someone else replies to everyone accidentally?
Since we've all accidentally (and probably embarrassingly) replied to everyone at one point or another, the best thing you can do is just ignore it. If you want, you can reply back to the sender — not everyone — and make a little joke, downplaying their gaffe.
If the sender was being a jerk and badmouthing people — maybe even you — don't reply back to the email list and escalate things. Either reply directly to that person and try to work things out, or ignore it entirely as something you weren't meant to hear.
Photo by olly/Shutterstock.
Etiquette is, by its very nature, subjective. What's acceptable today probably wasn't acceptable 20 years ago, and what's unheard of right now might be commonplace in a decade. It might also be seen as pedantic to some, because if you boil it down, it's just an arbitrary set of rules that we all abide by to make all our lives easier. So weigh in and tell us what you think about this subject. It's one of the few times that just about everybody's opinion is more or less as valid as everybody else's.