Making a jerk of yourself with the "reply all" bug

In response to last week’s article entitled Beware – It’s email, not a conversation, a faithful reader sent me an email (yes, I see the irony):

“Just an idea. Could be good to have an article about the people you put in to:, cc: (bcc….?). And also usage of reply or reply to all or add people in distrib list etc. I guess this is a real issue today…”

Thanks for the idea. I’ve added the To/CC/BCC suggestion to my list of potential articles, but I already had something prepared on “reply all” in my queue.

An email behavior to check yourself for is inadvertently sending a message to a huge number of people that you thought was only going to one person. This annoys a great many people and makes you look like a moron (at least, that’s what it felt like when I accidentally did it, D’oh!). There are two ways this phenomenon typically manifests itself.

First, most email programs place the “Reply” button right next to the “Reply All” button. A mouse pointer displaced by a centimeter can send your thoughts to everyone who received the original message instead of just the sender. Second, many companies use distribution lists to disseminate information to large audiences. Depending upon how the distribution lists are set up, pressing the “Reply” button on your email program may create a response to the author, or it may send your reply to everyone on the distribution list. If it’s the latter, the results can be embarrassing.

Collectively, these situations can be thought of as the “reply all” bug. Especially in cases where you are being critical of something or someone, double check to make sure you are sending your thoughts to the intended person only. Writing “That Irvin is sure an idiot” takes on a whole new meaning when Irvin himself will read it (double D’oh!).

Often in the distribution list variant of this phenomenon, someone asks a question intended only for the original sender that everyone ends up receiving. Then, someone else who is trying to be a good citizen does a “reply all” asking everybody not to “reply all”. Occasionally, a third person will jump in and point out to the second person that their “reply all” criticism ironically made use of “reply all” as well, not realizing that they just did it too. It can get pretty ridiculous.

The best bet is not to interject anything into these ultimately pointless exchanges, or at least to double check yourself so that you do not accidentally start one of these email threads or expose your opinions to people beyond your intended audience. You never know who you might offend and what they might say to your boss come performance evaluation time.

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One Response to “Making a jerk of yourself with the "reply all" bug”

  1. Favre and employee/employer loyalty | Nerd Guru Says:

    […] people in pro sports is extremely public. It’s one thing to trash your boss on an email where you accidentally press “reply all”, it’s quite another to have a poorly thought out sound bite replayed on SportsCenter for days […]

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