The dreaded “Reply all” email response

When I’m giving a training on digital diplomacy – the dos and don’ts for using technology – almost every time a participant will share how frustrated they are by people misusing the “Reply all” email option. They vent that “Reply all” is used too often and unnecessarily. Sometimes participants share that people don’t use the “Reply all” option when they should. It can be confusing and does cause a lot of angst for people.

When it comes to using “Reply all,” it’s best to err on the side of not using it, and instead reply directly to the sender. Most of the times the other people on the email list do not need to see your response. Here are some tips for when and when not to use “Reply all” in an email.

Situations when you don’t need to use the “Reply all” response

  • If you have been ccd on an email it’s rare for the sender to want you to respond to everyone. When a sender puts email addresses in the cc field they are basically giving those ccd folks a “copy” of the email for their information. People in the cc field are not typically part of the conversation with the sender. They are just being informed of the email. Therefore it’s safe to assume you are not meant to respond to the whole group.
  • “Reply all” is not necessary in response to congratulations or happy birthday emails for one person. If you want to send your good wishes, do so by emailing just the person being congratulated, not the whole group.
  • Avoid using “Reply all” in an information-only type email, such as the time or date of a meeting or a report of some sort. If you have a conflict or need more information reply only to the person who sent the email, not the entire group.
  • Never use “Reply all” to disagree with or correct someone. That is between you and the sender, not the others on the email. It’s a bit like pointing out that someone did something wrong in an in-person meeting. Doing so shames the other person in front of others. If you need to disagree or inform someone of a mistake—do so directly.
  • “Reply all” is not necessary to state that you received or will take action on an email. Again, that’s between you and the sender and not everyone else.
  • Nix using “Reply all” to thank the sender. Really, everyone on the email does not want to receive a million “thanks” emails.
  • Avoid using “Reply all” when the sender is trying to find a date for a group to meet. State your availability to just the sender and let them sort out what does and doesn’t work for the group. For those people who send scheduling emails, make life easier for you and your group by using a scheduling site or app like doodle.com. It makes finding a mutually agreeable time for a group meeting so much easier than back and forth emails.

Situations where “Reply all” is necessary

There are not many times when Reply all is necessary. But there are a few exceptions.

  • Use “Reply all” if the sender is asking for a group discussion or feedback.
  • If there are compliance or legal requirements to tracking conversations you might need to use “Reply all.” This should be rare.
  • “Reply all” might be necessary if the emailed group needs to see your response about your availability or your input on a topic.

Other than these very few situations, it is rare you need to use “Reply all,” especially if your email address is in the cc field.

If I’ve missed any reason for why using “Reply all” is necessary I’d love to hear from you.

 


Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:

Arden

Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

13 Comments

  1. Liz - but please do not publish. on October 23, 2019 at 12:52 am

    Re: The Dreaded Reply All
    Are there suggestions for when it is appropriate (or especially when it is not) to forward an email?
    Thank you!



  2. Arden on October 23, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Hello Liz,

    Thank you for the question. A couple of quick dos and don’ts. Don’t forward an email without permission from the sender if the information is confidential, personal or could reflect poorly on the sender. Don’t forward an email without an explanation for why you’re forwarding it to the receiver. Forward an email if the sender didn’t include someone who is crucial to the conversation or needs the information to perform their job or get answers to a question. Those are just a few. I hope that’s helpful.



  3. Damian galvin on January 5, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you for taking the timemto write it this etiquette guide. I was inspired to write my own article on general etiquette, as a foreigner now living in Romania, as the rules differ slightly. I have written an article on my blog, http://www.whitemountain.ro/blog entitled “A foreigner’s guide being a Gentleman in Romania”. I didnt post the link here directly in case its not allowed, but its the last one I wrote so will be at the top of the page. Happy New year for 2020.



  4. Bonnie on April 22, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    I received an email from someone that works closely with my company. Other people from her company are cc’d on the email. I don’t have the answer for her so this email goes back and forth between people in my company only. Then when I get the answer, I forward the answer to the person that sent the email only. Is it my responsibility or the person who initiated the email to ensure that the answer goes to everyone that was cc’d on the original email? Thank you.



  5. Arden on April 22, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Bonnie, technically it would be the person who sent the original email. But, it is a nice gesture for you to do it if it makes it easier on her. However, if doing so would put you in an odd position because she has more authority than you I would let her send the email to everyone. I hope that helps.



  6. Fathima Safla on September 1, 2020 at 12:14 am

    Hi Arden

    If you are a recipient of an e-mail where the sender questioned a piece of work you did which made it seem like you had made an error. Other individuals were CCd. Upon investigation the sender had made an error. Do I correct the sender directly? It bothers me that the other individuals might have the impression that I am careless or think that I did not try to resolve the issue. Do I need to take it on the chin?



  7. Arden on September 1, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Hello Fathima,
    That is a dilemma isn’t it? The rules of etiquette teaches us that we never point out someone’s bad manners, in this case the sender’s error. However, if what was stated could negatively impact your reputation it might be worth using the reply all option. But, make sure your response is not defensive, blaming, accusatory or hurtful. Say something neutral like, “Oops I think I may have miscommunicated (or we had a miscommunication). it’s actually this…” If the error was minor let it go and don’t respond to everyone. It will look petty.

    I hope that helps.



  8. Holly on October 7, 2020 at 5:20 am

    What about replying all when correcting someone so that all the others in the email don’t do the same thing? As HR I find I do that because I don’t want others confused. Now these are not people who are cc’d these are who the message is to and is a discussion that all need to be on the same page.



  9. Arden on October 7, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Hi Holly, it somewhat depends on the context. If you are explaining a new policy or service or something to a group in an email and someone replies to everyone with incorrect information or has made a mistake that others are likely to make as well then, yes, it’s appropriate to reply to the whole group. But, if the person who responded with incorrect information or said something about you that was wrong and others aren’t likely to do the same, then keep it between you and this person. You want to avoid publicly shaming or embarrassing someone. If you must correct misinformation from one person to everyone on the email chain then try to avoid pointing fingers. Rather then saying, “Bob is incorrect in…” Keep it more high level. Something like, “It looks like there might be some confusion about this. The facts are…” You want to avoid naming the person who had the wrong information. I hope that helps. Thanks for writing in.



  10. Ralph Landry on February 26, 2021 at 6:50 am

    My question relates to “Do BBC “recipients have access to the “Reply to All” option in Email applications. My concern is that if he /she can/has access to that feature , and uses it unknowingly, that means that the Recipient and CC ‘ed addressees will become aware of the fact that other supposed/ intended Blind Copied recipients, who the original Sender wanted to keep informed of the situation in a Blind (FYI) manner. Comments pls



  11. Arden on March 1, 2021 at 10:56 am

    Hello Ralph,

    Thank you for visiting my blog. When you put email addresses in the BCC field, which stands for Blind Carbon Copy, the BCC recipient cannot reply all. They can reply to the sender but that’s it. So, BCC is a helpful field to use when you want people to keep from using the Reply All option. It also protects privacy because email addresses in the BCC field are not visible to anyone included in the email. I hope that helps.



  12. Jack C. on March 24, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    For family emails (vs. the business focus here) I think Reply All should actually be “enforced” for etiquette. The very fact of emailing a group of relatives indicates you’d rather not branch off into private emails that had caused hidden bickering.

    I’ve done this when trying to get passive-aggressive distant family members “on the same page” related to elderly parent care and other topics. Some might say it’s not a good use of email, but these people won’t take calls, either! It’s a way to put issues on the record, at least.



  13. Arden on March 24, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    Good point Jack. When you are making decisions with a group, Reply All is necessary. It can get annoying with all of the back and forth. Sometimes a conference call or video meeting is the best bet to get a situation handled quicker.

    Thanks for weighing in.



Leave a Comment