The problem with reply all

Here’s the problem with email: You can’t opt in and you can’t opt out. Once someone decides that you need to be included in an email conversation, you’re in until someone else (lots of someones, usually) decide to remove you from the thread. Until then, you’re stuck getting every single reply, even those that provide absolutely no benefit to anyone - “+Bob from accounting;” “Let me get back to you on that;” “Congrats!”

One email convention is responsible for all of this - “reply all.” reply all certainly makes sense for a variety of scenarios - all of which involve the sender being aware of the vital recipients of the email. reply all becomes an even bigger inconvenience when the original sender of the email includes as many mailing lists as they can find and actively encourages everyone to reply to the email - I’m looking at you “hey, let’s all congratulate our co-worker on putting up with my reply all email bombs for exactly one year now!” emails.

Two strategies to avoid annoying your coworkers

1. If you’re sending an email to a large group of people, use the BCC functionality.

To: Bob
BCC: LotsOfPeople@lists.examle.com
Subject: Congratulate Bob or suffer social stigma in the workplace ;)

So here’s what happens: Everyone, including Bob, gets an email congratulating Bob. Some people walk 7 feet across the office and congratulate Bob in person. Others reply directly to Bob, congratulating him on his continued employment. A final contingent reflexively uses reply all, but only Bob receives the reply - because Bob is the only official recipient of the email; everyone else is blind copied. Everyone is happy.

2. Think before you use reply all.

That’s it. Just think before you reply all. Ask yourself - is what I’m sending going to help everyone on this list? If the answer is even remotely “no,” find out who actually needs to be included, and only send it to them. Just be aware, exercise discretion. This is generally good advice about sending any email, but especially if you’re using that dreaded reply all button.

Or, just don’t use email.

There’s also the option to not use email. Many new collaboration and communication platforms allow for better alternatives to email, which can all but completely eliminate the need for email between coworkers - we still need to work on communication outside of the corporate firewall.