Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on e-mail etiquette

Reply All, CC, and BCC----Get to know these, when to use them and how not to abuse them!
In the professional world, many of our interactions are over e-mail.  Since this is how we interact, we have to know the social rules that come with the territory.  Mastering these social rules, or e-mail etiquette, can make you efficient in your everyday interactions.
I think the “Reply-All” button is one of the most abused features of e-mail.  It is the most annoying when someone uses an e-mail distribution list that shows everyone’s e-mail addresses to congratulate an employee for a promotion or the birth of their child or some other celebratory message.  When the first person hits “Reply-all” to send his congratulations, that’s when the madness starts. Suddenly, the social pressure to “Reply-all” turns into this infectious virus and everyone is bit by the bug to send their “Congratulations.”  Now, your in-box has dozens of useless messages eating up space. This could have been avoided if the person who originated the initial messaged had ‘hid’ the distribution list by BCCing the distribution list—a correct way to use BCC.
The right use of reply-all is when you are working on a project with several individuals involved that need to be kept informed.  If you receive a message requesting action from you and there are individuals CC’d, or carbon copied, you have to reply-all or else those who aren’t included in your reply will not know if you’ve handled your end.  
Sometimes, you are brought into an e-mail exchange because perhaps you are the most appropriate person for a certain request or project. For example, I often receive messages from colleagues that might say something like  “It sounds like your should connect with Brenda Gonzalez, I have copied her to this message…”.  If I am indeed the correct person that needs to be brought in, I like to reply-all with something like  “Great, I will e-mail  Blank Person directly to coordinate.” I prefer to do this over inviting a series of “reply-alls” to everyone with the details of what I really should be coordinating exclusively with the person who was referred to me.  But, my initial reply-all does bring the conversation to a close for the person who first thought of looping me in.
I like to use “CC” as an accountability tool. For example, perhaps my boss in passing has asked me to connect with a certain person.  When I get the opportunity to send an e-mail to the person my boss wants me to connect with, I make sure I CC my boss so he knows I have followed through.  
Another tool that is not often leveraged is the Blind Carbon Copy or BCC.   I am finding that one has to be quite savvy to use BCC strategically. Unfortunately, I just had a bad experience because a colleague of mine didn’t quite understand how BCC works. Here’s the story:
I decided to CC my colleague, let’s call her Jan, in a note because a person in her market, let’s call her Pat, had reached out to me.  My note said something to the effect of “I want to suggest that you connect with Jan, who I have copied….” Pat replied only to me to gently say that she had tried connecting with Jan before but had a bad experience. I wanted Jan to know that she had some work to do to make Pat’s experience a little better, so I Blind Carbon Copied Jan to my response to Pat where I assured her that we would resolve her concerns.   I used BCC because I knew Pat shared her concerns with me in private when she chose to Reply just to me and not to “Reply-All.” I assumed Jan would understand that I was sharing Pat’s note to her in secret, which is the entire purpose of Blind Carbon Copy. My assumptions where inaccurate. Jan decided to “Reply-All,” which in essence threw me under the proverbial bus!  When she replied to both me and Pat, it became obvious to Pat that I had used BCC.
The lesson I learned here is to only use BCC with folks that you are fully confident understand how it works.  Friends have suggested that instead of BCC, I should use the forward option instead. So what I could have done differently is forwarded the note I received from Pat to Jan instead.  Lessons learned and now shared with you!

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