October 23, 2008

"Reply to All" Emails

The Minister of Common Sense loves email. In fact, I rather write email to people instead of talking to them under just about any circumstance. It's a better form of communication in nearly every way, not the least of which is being able to avoid directly dealing with someone. I would have sex via email, if it was possible. HOWEVER... I hate people who needlessly "Reply to All" on big group emails.

It starts with someone who writes an email to a big bunch of people, and then people start responding... to everyone... over and over again. The biggest abuse is when someone sends a group email saying something like, "I'm collecting money for John's birthday gift. For anyone who wants to contribute $20, let me know and we'll pool together the funds and get a gift certificate to Best Buy." Then the Reply to All emails start to pour in with comments like, "Count me in!" or "OK, where do I send the money?" and "Can I give you the money at the party?" I don't need to hear all that! Your emails don't have any bearing on whether or not I'm going to give $20. I'm also not the one collecting the money or buying the gift certificate. The proper response in this situation is to reply ONLY to the original sender. So why do people feel the need to Reply to All? After 15 minutes, my inbox is flooded with pointless, "Count me in!" emails. There are 100 examples of this type of abuse.

You can find some horrible examples of Reply to All failures at work, too. Let's say that human resources department sends around a company-wide email about making your health insurance elections online through the company's intranet site. Invariably, some idiot manages to Reply to All with "How do you log in?" or something like that. Why do I need to see that?? Why did you send it to EVERYONE in the whole fucking company?! If you don't know how to log in, then just respond to the HR person directly and ask them. I'm not going to tell you how to log in - I probably don't even know who you are. And if you're stupid enough to not know how to log in AND to not know how to properly use Reply and Reply to All functions in email, then I'm certainly not going to help you. When this happens, HR should just automatically fire them. In fact, they should occasionally send around emails that try to entrap people into improperly using
the Reply to All function, just so we can cull the employee base of people who are too stupid to work for us.

It's amazing when you see these Reply to All emails and you know the person probably didn't mean to do it, but how does this physically/mentally happen? I don't understand it. The Reply and Reply to All buttons are two separate selections (albeit, next to one another on Outlook). I would think that the natural, default response to an email is to reflexively hit the Reply button (and not the Reply to All button). I would think that there are many more Replies to emails when you meant to Reply to All (under appropriate circumstances), but how does it happen the other way around? You actually have to go out of your way to hit the Reply to All button. On a Blackberry, the Reply selection is the default, and the Reply to All is three wheel clicks away... how do you land there on a big group email?

Of course, sometimes it is OK to Reply to All on emails that are to 3-4 people, and when you are all collaborating on something together or whatever. It can be a useful function when a group opinion is required, or everyone needs to know what the others are doing. But, let's start using the Reply to All function a little more judiciously, especially on those big group or organization-wide emails.

The email sender can take a little responsibility for this, too, and bcc people (instead of cc people) on big group emails where you know that there is no reason for anyone to Reply to All. The bcc only allows them to respond to you, and not to everyone else. But I'm not going to sit here and teach a class on how to use Microsoft Outlook - I only teach Common Sense 101 (and many of you are failing).

While I'm on the topic of emails and replies, there is one thing that really annoys me, and that is when people add others on their response back to you. You may write a work email to one person, typically asking a question, and then they respond to you with the answer and needlessly cc some other person on it (usually their boss or your boss). What the fuck? I directly asked YOU a question, if I wanted to ask the other person, or let them know about it, then I would have included them on the original email. What, you have to tell your daddy that you are communicating with me and what you are up to? I can't imagine all the pointless cc emails that get sent every day. Just stop it already.


  1. I couldn't agree more. There are SO MANY more embarrassing mess-ups with people using reply to all... people have been fired and customers lost because of it!

  2. Very true and very funny, Mr. Minister!