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Whatever You Do, Don’t Reply to All!

Lately e-mail has been a topic of discussion almost everywhere I turn. It is funny to me that e-mail is still so mysterious to so many, considering it has been part of our lives for practically 15 years.

Over and over again we hash out what is right and wrong as far as e-mail goes. On top of that, there are different circumstances for professional e-mail and personal e-mail. Don’t forget other communication tools such as facebook, Myspace, texting, instant messaging, twitter and so on and so on.

E-mail was designed as a tool to communicate quickly and effectively and now this one medium has become so many things – good and bad. Just to mention a few, e-mail is used for office communication, to send photos or documents, to write to friends and family and is even used as a dating or breaking up tool.

It all gets so complicated sometimes that I wonder why people just can’t figure it out. E-mail can be tricky and can sometimes even completely negate what a person is trying to accomplish. I can think of so many times when I’ve received an e-mail and took it a completely different way than it was meant, and vice versa. E-mail is supposed to be quick, yes, but I caution about making the thought one puts into e-mail as quick.

You cannot tell what a person’s tone is over an e-mail, and that’s why I tend to put a happy face at the end of most of my e-mails. That might be considered juvenile, but I’d rather have that be the case than somebody misinterpreting my intent.

Some people gloss over details of e-mails and read into it what they want. On top of that, e-mail threads can sometimes be more time consuming than a good, old fashioned phone call or face to face meeting, and definitely can be more confusing. This is all common knowledge, but it seems that again and again, e-mail works against us.

As I mentioned in my blog about civility, it is time to get back to being polite to each other. I also mentioned that I’m a gusher. If I cannot attend an event or have to decline an invitation, I like to be as nice as possible in my decline. However, over blackberry, text, etc. people are trying to use as few key taps as possible and a response might be as short as “can’t.” Even a “sorry, can’t” would be just a tiny bit nicer.

My response would probably be something like, “Thank you so much for the initiation. I would absolutely love to come, but I have other plans that I cannot break. However, let’s make sure we get together as soon as possible in the future, and I hope you have a great time.” And I’m not kidding. Ask anybody who knows me. If you don’t have the time to write a decent response, just wait until you can. Or, consider picking up the phone. You just never know what could insult somebody, and if they have time to formally invite you to something, you should have the courtesy to provide a thoughtful response as well.

After all these years, I’ve definitely made my share of e-mail mistakes and have been the victim of e-mail mistakes. I doubt I’ll ever be “e-mail perfect,” but I do have three rules that I live by.

One is that there is a time and place for everything. Under this rule, I consider sending a funny forward to close friends ok (on personal time of course) but not to my boss or co-workers, unless I know them well and know they would appreciate a quick mental break. Forwards in excess are never appropriate in my opinion. However, a forward here or there that I know somebody thought I would like are sometimes a nice surprise during the day. Just think about what you’re sending, when you’re sending it and to whom.

That leads me to rule number two: use common sense. First of all, think of all of the misfortune people have encountered by e-mail mistakes. One thing that scares the living heck out of me is the e-mail address auto-add feature. Basically if you start typing a letter of an e-mail address, a person’s e-mail address pops up. How many of us trust this? A lot. DON’T DO IT! What if your boss and your boyfriend’s name was Mike? Just think of the snafus that could occur. I say turn auto-add OFF! Save yourself some heartache right now.

Also under this rule, AT WORK more than anything, do not send one word that is remotely questionable. Do not use slang, foul language or anything remotely off color. You just never know who is watching you or reading your e-mail. Even from your personal account, think about it long and hard …

Finally, whatever you do, DO NOT REPLY TO ALL. Most of us know by now that blind carbon copy e-mail is the way to go. Unless the e-mail is specifically being sent for public comment please, whatever you do, blind carbon copy it. This is for your own protection. You just never, ever know what people might say when they write back and they might not realize they’re replying to all and could say something you don’t want others to know. That could be embarrassing as well as disastrous.

And even if somebody forgets to blind carbon copy – do not be tempted to reply to all. Who knows who you are actually writing to? And don’t assume that those people want your opinion or want their inbox clogged up by an e-mail thread they didn’t even ask to be part of. Some people are habitual reply to allers, and I can think of people who have been removed altogether from mailing lists because of it. On the other hand, some families (like mine) like to write one note and just keep on replying to all. No problem! However, I make sure it all goes to my personal e-mail.

If the e-mail is meant for the “reply to all” function, still think about what you’re saying and who will be reading it.

Maybe one day we’ll get e-mail right, but for now, please be careful, use it wisely and always think long and hard about what you wrote before pressing send.

><(("> Mandy Stark

Mandy is a ><(("> Friend of Catch Your Limit, a marketing firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To contact Mandy email her at or to learn more about Catch Your Limit, visit

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  1. Anonymous says

    hm. good thoughts :)

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