Believe it or not, but there was an age that preceded the reply all function, B.C.E. (before communication etiquette). I will spare the history of this dark era, but suffice to say, the efficiency of the modern email is predicated on clarity, brevity, and open communication. Is it any coincidence that the Human Development Index (HDI) has risen dramatically over the past 20 years in countries which have implemented the reply all button, while their neanderthal mono-reply counterparts have remained stagnant? I think not. For the very catalyst of civilizational refinement is directly reflected by the reliability of its constituents to adhere to basic email etiquette.
Alas, this is a short PSA on the importance of ‘replying all’ to an email. The do’s, the don’ts, and the appropriate course of action if you ever, and I mean ever, find yourself wavering with the slightest hesitation if you should click ‘reply all’ (hint: you probably should).
Rule #1 Is everyone on the email working on the project? Is this information necessary for the project to be properly executed? If either of those statements are true, reply all is mandatory.
Scenario: Bizness LLC, is doing business with Joe’s Widgets. There are a lot of moving parts involved, with many people contributing to the overall success of this project. It is imperative that both project managers and individual specialists remain up to speed with the day to day developments. So far, so good.
But! All it requires is one inconsiderate person not to hit reply all and the entire thread is doomed. Now people are lost, confused, aimlessly wandering around the digital exosphere. John is waiting for an answer from Sally, but Sally is not aware. In fact, Sally is oblivious, because she never received the email. Finally, a good samaritan, Greg, adds Sally back to the conversation. However, equilibrium has been lost. Instead of a linear conversation that flows from A to B to C, from exposition to development to resolution, our protagonists are thrust into a French New Wave film. A logical narrative is now replaced with emails, and fractions of threads, and redundant forwards of all different time stamps.
Once the reply all has been abandoned, it is anarchy and only one of two states remain:
Sensory deprivation: That is to say lifeless, void of a keystroke, it is where those poor souls reside who were ruthlessly expended in an inconsiderate act of reply all negligence.
The echo chamber: A cacophonous monstrosity as people are added, dropped, and re-added and the entire conversation is out of order. Imagine having a conversation with two other individuals, discussing the merits of passive investing. After a thorough analysis of why mutual fund management fees are unjustifiable, you transition topics to the long-haired dachshund winning the Pedigree Best in Show, finally ending the shihtzu’s dominant four year reign. Suddenly, your quiet third leg casually remarks, “I don’t much care for Index funds.” Oh my, what a faux pas, the conversation comes to a grinding halt. This is to be trapped in the hell of not replying all.
Rule #2 Does everyone need to receive your response? No? Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure? If you can confidently claim nobody needs to see your message you may hit the singular “reply.”
Scenario: A boss or Coworker emails the team there will be cookies in the conference room tomorrow afternoon. You promptly respond that you will not be in attendance. You have an appointment with a specialist to assess the odd growth on your leg that has confounded the entire medical community East of the Mississippi. Please do not feel obligated to share this with the entire thread. In fact, exercising some discretion is encouraged. If, however, you are taken with sociopathic tendencies and feel compelled to share this information, please be sensitive to the time of day. 10:45am – 1:15am is the primary window for lunch. A coworker’s medical malady is an appetite suppressant, to say the least. On the positive, nobody will ever touch your lunch in the fridge again. They will stop using the fridge all together.
Rule #3 Treat emails as if they were a date.
Religion, politics, money, we’ve all been taught to carefully sidestep these potentially caustic topics of conversation when meeting a new acquaintance. Extend the same principle to email conduct. If you have an issue with billing, send it to the appropriate vendor without giving an audience to their employees. If you have a complaint, or need to make a correction, there is no need to make these concerns public. It is a matter of tact and class.
If you need to cancel a meeting, notify everyone. If you are providing next steps for a project, notify everyone. If you are looking for an update on the status of a project, notify everyone. After all, if you had to cancel a date you would not text your mother, you would notify the person in question.
Economists predict an improvement in labor production if the reply all function was properly utilized. A conservative figure estimates 24 percent economic growth, propelling the US GDP to an unprecedented 26 trillion dollars. Human capital is bogged down by email inbox management. Think of the potential!
Exclusive to this piece I had an opportunity to speak with a renowned psychiatrist, Edmund Bumbersveld. In a study that flirted with violating medical ethics, participants were subjected to email threads, one group with strict adherence to correct reply all use, the other subjected to shoddy and sporadic reply all use. Group A (sans reply all) saw increased blood pressure, hypertension, stress, and an inclination towards murderous thoughts. In all, it accounted for a cardiologists triple crown; three strokes, two heart attacks, and an aneurysm.
Control group B was a direct inverse to its neurotically broken counterpart. They reported having higher levels of life satisfaction, lowered stress, and cited a renewed interest in exploring the transcendental. In summation, our shrink remarked not using reply all is a gold mine for his practice.
What have we learned?
Basic email etiquette does not require some herculean effort, just remember the rules above. When in doubt, extend the courtesy. It may save a project, or even someone’s life.
HIT THE DAMN REPLY ALL BUTTON.