E-mail by consensus? Avoid Reply All

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a great opinion piece last month, Radical Academic Advice: Think Before Hitting ‚ÄúReply All.” When it’s not the best method, this happens to be one of my office pet peeves. I mean, didn’t we all learn from #replyallcalypse last year?

Some tips I would offer up, especially in this age where we deal with hundreds of e-mails a day:

  • Are you actually trying to make a decision using reply all over e-mail? If so, do you think this is the most effective method?
  • If you don’t want people to reply all, explicitly mention that s/he should only reply to you.
  • If you simply want to notify someone, BCC instead.
  • Do you want feedback from everyone on the e-mail? Sometimes I’m copied on e-mails asking if anyone sees errors and it’s unclear if you should reply if it’s approved. It can be more effective to send to 8 people and add something like, “If you have any changes, please send them to so-and-so by March 8 at noon, or otherwise, I’ll consider this copy final.”

I’m not sure that there’s a way to stop the madness of replying all. I am on a small listserv for a staff organization board of about 30 or so people. I noticed that in asking for RSVPs, everyone was constantly replying all. One e-mail was sent and I would suddenly have 15 pointless e-mails in my inbox. Instead of hitting delete, I first contacted the list administrator to see if that was the listserv setting. It turns out that wasn’t the problem, and I simply sent a polite e-mail to all asking folks to only reply to the sender. The behavior immediately stopped and hasn’t started up again, which was a huge success in my book. It was just a bad habit that people weren’t thinking about.

And I’ll leave you all with that note for all work matters in general. Working smart is about promoting best practices across the workplace, and a big part of that is providing feedback when a collective behavior isn’t working. Seize the day and take the time to make the workplace better for everyone!

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