Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Reply To All"... don't do it

A lot of times at work (or even at home) you’ll be on a large distribution list for an e-mail. While a response to the individual who sent the e-mail or to the individual who is the subject of the e-mail might be warranted a response to the entire distribution list who received the e-mail almost never is.

For example a vice president sends out an e-mail to the entire company announcing a promotion for Joe Smith. So you “reply to all” congratulating Joe for his well deserved promotion. I’m sure Joe appreciated your congratulatory note but the other 10,000 people you responded to don’t give a rat’s ass what you think. Like your validation of the promotion somehow makes it more meaningful. Unless you’re the president who approved the promotion you have no business “replying to all” in this example. And even if you are the president who approved the promotion you’re probably too smart to “reply to all” anyway. A “reply to all” in this example makes you look a) stupid because you were too careless to realize that you were “replying to all” or b) self-absorbed because your “reply to all” implies that you actually think other people care what you have to say about the promotion. Either way you come out looking bad.

Another example comes from my own personal life. I live on a block that likes to get together often... too often. Friday night happy hours, Saturday night poker, Sunday barbeques, Memorial day block parties, July 4 block parties, Easter Egg Hunts, etc. etc. But that's not the annoying part, well it is but read on. Every time an event is planned someone sends out an e-mail to all 30+ families on the block announcing the event and asking for a head count. One person "replies to all" and it inevitably sets off a firestorm of responses announcing that someone will or won't be there, and most include some form of a futile attempt at humor (a childish ribbing of another neighbor, a cryptic reference to something that happened at a previous get together, or some other benign comment that makes me wish I lived on another block). The proper action in this example would be to a) respond to the original sender only - after all they're the only one who really needs to know the head count anyway, or b) not respond at all (eventually they'll get the hint). The problem is that most people don't do the proper thing and bad judgement seems to be contagious. Hasn't anyone on my block ever heard of an Evite? Maybe my neighbors are unique in their inability to exercise discretion when it comes to e-mail, or maybe I'm an asshole for being annoyed by their mindless fodder clogging up my inbox. Whatever the case may be I can't possibly be the only one who sees it this way.

Please help end "reply to all" abuse. Whenever you get the urge to "reply to all" slow down, take a deep breath, and think long and hard before proceeding with caution. As a general rule of thumb if a distribution list contains more than a single digit of recipients you’re always better off replying to the sender only. I personally think that Exchange and Notes should come up with a way to remove the “reply to all” button from the systems of those who chronically abuse the use of this function. Bill or Steve - clearly you guys can whip something up.

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