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Just Say No to Reply-to-All and Cc’ing the World Emails – Reply All Etiquette

Reply All Etiquette

You need something from Suzanne.  Suzanne tends to ignore your emails. So in frustration, when sending Suzanne requests, you begin Cc’ing your boss and Suzanne’s boss. This has happened to most of us.

People Cc people who don’t really need to receive communications for a few reasons:

1)      Sometimes people really aren’t sure who needs to know the information. So just to be safe, they include others.  This can be quite innocent.

2)      Sometimes people want others to know what they’re up to (a.k.a. they’re seeking recognition). This is not necessarily bad. It’s important to share what you’re doing for the organization, and cc’ing ancillary people on emails can be a very smart thing to do.

3)      Lastly, sometimes people are afraid they won’t get what they need from the email recipient, so they Cc lots of people. This is typically not so innocent.

What should you do when someone Cc’s the world when emailing you, and you fear that it makes you look bad?

Reply All Etiquette

I suggest speaking directly with people who Cc others on emails.  The conversation could sound something like this, “I noticed that when you email me you have a tendency to Cc other department heads. For example, last week when you asked me for the year-end numbers, you Cc’d my boss, Lisa in Marketing, and Bob in Sales. I was wondering why you’re doing that?”

Then stop talking and listen to what the person says.

Depending on what s/he says, you can respond with something like, “I will always strive to provide you with what you need.  If you don’t get what you need from me in a timely way, by all means escalate your request, and go to the people above me. But I’d really appreciate if you’d come to me first and give me a chance to fulfill your request. Would you be willing to do that?”

If the person says something like, “I just think Lisa and Bob need to have this information. I have no other agenda,” you can respond with something like, “I don’t think they need this information, but why don’t we ask them. Would you be comfortable with that? I’ll send them both a message and Cc you, letting them know we talked about this email chain, and ask if they want to continue to receive the messages. How does that sound?”

You never know why someone is doing something, even if you think you know. Ask!

Reply All Etiquette

I encourage you to say something versus nothing. If you say nothing you’ll likely make decisions about the person and about your working relationship that may or may not be accurate. If you say nothing, the behavior is bound to continue.

People change their behavior for two reasons, positive and negative consequences.  No consequences, no behavior change. No one likes to be ‘called on’ their behavior.  Often a conversation like the one above will make the person uncomfortable enough to stop doing what they’re doing.

Reply All Etiquette:

More innocent than Cc’ing the world, but equally annoying, is the reply-to-all email. Someone in your office sends around a joke.  Seventy-five people feel compelled to reply to all with their feelings about the joke. When I see things like this, I count how much money in lost wages companies are spending, that is, after I’ve put a pen in my eye.

To prevent reply to all emails, the person who initiates the first email can put in LARGE FONT, “Please reply only to me!”

You can also bcc people on the initial email so the reply’s don’t go to everyone.

It also takes only one person who asks people to stop replying to all, for the email chain to stop. And it’s perfectly appropriate to do this. The email could sound something like, “Going forward, please only reply to Brian, versus replying to all. Thank you!”

When things in the workplace frustrate you, it can be easier to say nothing than to say something. Saying nothing will also help nothing.  The frustration is still there. The relationships are still damaged. Gather your courage, and save your office mates a lot of time.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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One Response to “Just Say No to Reply-to-All and Cc’ing the World Emails – Reply All Etiquette”

  1. Shruti says:

    I really appreciate and like your DIRECT COMMUNICATION style of dealing with this topic. I have used the tips given by you and cascaded at my own work group.


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