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  • Writer's pictureElana Duffy

Reply, Reply All, or No Reply at All: Tips and tricks for managing responses

The response was perfect. Your cubicle buddy is going to laugh at your slightly snarky but still informed response to his recent push of the latest company memo. You threw in a pun, an inside joke, and a clever barb at middle management. You can formulate your real response after lunch.



Oh no.

You hit reply all instead of reply. And there is no recall option on most web-based email servers. Middle management is not going to have the same appreciation for your clever barb. There may be a storm coming…

We have all been there. Reply all is the bane of many a workplace existence. Either you hit it by accident and send a personal message to all 1000 employees, or your inbox is inundated with mundane, single word responses to a question you didn’t ask and to which you needn’t know everyone’s input. Your phone, synced to your email, chirps every 45 seconds as an entire 37 member listserve hits that dreaded double arrow.

However, there are still appropriate times to use the button, and therefore we require other ways you can help yourself while practicing proper email etiquette.

Introductions. I enjoy making introductions. I want colleagues and friends to be as connected as possible, to intersect my different worlds and make everyone happier in the doing. What I find, however, is that after an introduction via email, I end up on a string of communications about potential times the new acquaintances can possibly try and meet for coffee. I’m not attending this meeting, so why am I still here? A friend and technology consultant recently executed the fix for this beautifully: make full use of the blind carbon copy line. In his initial email to the person whom I’d referred to this friend for filling a contract, my friend thanked me graciously for the introduction and then stated in the email (and completed in practice), “Thanks so much, Lana (moved to BCC).” He then went on with the job details and the rest of the context to link up with the connection. In so doing, he replied to everyone to ensure I knew he’d received the message and was making contact, but he also saved me from the minutia of their conversation by relocating me to the BCC line.

Listserves. Listserves are a great way to keep things organized when you have to send multiple messages to the same people. Be it a product development group, upper management, or the intramural bocce ball team, it can make sense to have a listserve if you are the group organizer. And if you are trying to narrow down the time for your next presentation/meeting/tournament, you might want the capability for everyone to have an input that the others can share. But many times the communication is not meant for discussion, it’s meant for digestion. Try an ingenious solution, again making use of BCC: address the email to yourself, and then in the BCC place the listserve address. This will prevent the email from being blocked for no addressee, allow for questions to come directly to you, but will prevent the rest of the listserve from being inundated. If you are the recipient of a listserve email, you can perform the same function. Reply to the initial sender, putting the listserve address in the BCC. You just saved yourself, and everyone else, further headache.

Tools. There are several tools and plug-ins you can use, depending on your host server and email programs, to prevent the accidental or even intentional Reply All debacle. Some of these are detailed in this Wall Street Journal article. Of these, the best might be the simplest: a pop-up that asks you if you really meant to hit reply all. Even if you did, it forces you to ask the question of yourself as to who really needs to know the information you are about to send. For peace of mind, some of these tools might be worth the investment.

We live and work in a digital age. There are companies now, like Present Tense, which capitalize on this and can conduct all business remotely through tools like email. But this does mean we have to be cautious, check our work and the work of others, and ensure we do what we can to prevent missteps.

Because middle management, and your clients, might not always appreciate your same sense of clever humor.

Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC. She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.

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