the peril of “reply all”

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 1.42.59 PM“Reply all” can be useful.  I get it.  I’m on a committee that uses it effectively to get input on new proposals and even vote on them, saving precious time in our meetings.

For many reasons, you should avoid “reply all,” beyond it being a bad way to share jokes that aren’t funny.  Here are some situations where ‘reply all’ is counterproductive if not downright rude:

The passive-aggressive play
Be careful about including supervisors in your email, unless they have specifically asked to be included in the conversation.  Even if they have asked, you may want to take them off the list if all your response means is “I’m going above your head.”   This is no way to collaborate.  It invites suspicion and hard feelings, often before any real conversation begins.  Any email that is a power play is a bad email, and “reply all” can be the weapon of choice.  Set it down.  Walk away.  And no one will get hurt.

The annoying conversation
Sometimes people use “reply all” or group emails to ask stupid questions. Don’t be one of those people.  (Actually, email proves that there is such a thing as a stupid question.)  You do not have to answer any email about what you want to do tonight unless it comes from your spouse or best friend.  Asking people questions about things they aren’t interested in or don’t care about is impolite, if I can put it politely. Any “reply all” approach to questions like this annoying. That’s why God invented social media, to free our inboxes from conversations like this.

Unnecessary responses
After someone agrees or disagrees once or twice, silence IS your assent to their concern or affirmation.  Let the originator respond to them and move the conversation forward before you reply, if you need to respond at all.  Everyone gets too much email—and resents getting more as everyone chimes in on a topic without adding anything to the conversation.

Another unnecessary response is the one where someone didn’t read the initial email, asking questions that were already answered. Of course there are times when your response is necessary—and that would be when you have something to add, not just say.

And if you want to thank someone, after a couple of people in the group have already done so, send them an individual email.  Or better yet, a hand-written note.  It will be more appreciated by the person you thank and also by the people who didn’t have to read it.  They have, for better or worse, moved on.

The difficult situation
Some subjects shouldn’t be handled with email at all, especially when people say things in an email thread that they wouldn’t say in person.  Once the “reply all” thread gets overheated, it’s time to call a meeting.  Try to get everyone in a room where passions can be smoothed and nonverbals can be read. (Emojis don’t count.)

The last word
Some people have to have the last word.  Don’t be one of those people.  Cluttering everyone’s inbox with one last effort to display your wisdom ensures your future contributions to “reply all” threads will be dreaded and unopened.  Actually, all your future emails may be ignored, even if you are the boss.

Some final tips

  • If “reply all” is a default, change it.   Every “reply all” requires a thoughtful assessment.  There are times when someone’s assistant or manager no longer needs to be in loop, for example.
  • It’s a good idea to pause and reflect before you send any email It is more important in a “reply all.” Your words and your use of others’ time are cultivating your reputation as helpful, redundant or careless.
  • The best response can be no response.

 

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Reply all works better on blogs than in email.  Comment below if you have a great “reply all” story to tell or an insight to add.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

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