The Infamous and Marginally Useful ‘Reply All’ Button

Business School.  Whether you’re getting an undergrad degree in accounting, management, or marketing, or even getting your doctorate in Business Administration (which I had NO idea was available until attending a recent graduation)…they don’t teach you about the ‘Reply All’ button.

I’m referring to exactly what you think I am.  That button that you have the option of hitting when you reply to an email that everyone and their supervisor and their supervisor was copied on in the first place.

First thing’s first, it is a useful button.  In some cases.  When you’re working in a team, and everyone needs to be kept in the loop on every detail…yes.  When someone has a question that is relevant to all on the email…yes.  BUT what about when it’s not useful?  What they never taught me in college was how AWFUL this button can be.  Sure, I’ve worked in offices and held internships long before I started my “adult” job…but never had I been exposed to this button which can cause one insanity in one tiny click.  Nielsen even went so far as to eliminate the darn button…a pretty extreme measure that I’m not advocating here.

You think I’m exaggerating.  I promise you, I’m not.

This button is the reason I check email on my Crackberry when I’m on vacation (okay, so there are other control-freak-like reasons that I check my email while on vacation, but that’s another post…).  Back to the issue at hand.

The button, as I’ve come to learn, is part of a company’s culture.  One day, long, long ago, someone thought this button was really cool and useful…and began using it (properly, of course).  Then, as more people joined the company, they followed by example, and Voila!i  it’s the norm.  Problem is, it’s become the norm on sending emails to 5+ people to say the following:

The Thank-You Email.

Situation: Several people have been copied on an email.  One person says they will do something (through a ‘Reply All’ email, of course), another person response (to everyone) “Thank you (insert name here)!” 

NOTE: The “Thank you!” emails are probably the worst offenders…why do you need to let several people know that you’re thanking one person for doing his/her job.  There’s a button for that…it’s called ‘Reply.’  And what’s worse…after it’s been incorporated into your company’s culture, if you don’t send the expected mass “Thank You” email, the people who you didn’t copy might think you didn’t thank the person.  It’s a Catch-22. 


The Inside Conversation/Joke Email

“Hope you have a great weekend with your daughter!” “I did, it was great, we had SO much fun!”  No.  Eight people do not need to be in on your inside conversation.  You are clogging people’s inboxes.  Stop right there.


 The No-Way-Around It Email

In special cases, you don’t get a choice.  Simply hit ‘Reply,’ and it goes to all.  I’ve recently been able to witness the pure joy (note sarcasm) of this phenomena.  People talking about things that are vaguely relevant to me and that I only half understand in emails that pour in at all hours of the day.  I kid you not, a project wasn’t even in the field, and I had just under 500 emails that had flooded my inbox…it’s bad.

So, bottom line, for the sanity of your co-workers…use the ‘Reply All’ button at your discretion.  And if your discretion has been a little warped…just don’t send an email thanking one person to 10 people.

NOTE:  Apparently Outlook 2003 gives you a way to prevent e-mail message recipients from using the ‘Reply All’ button through FIFTEEN steps!  Thanks but no thanks…how about people just learn how to use it…


4 thoughts on “The Infamous and Marginally Useful ‘Reply All’ Button

  1. Hey, great piece.
    You managed to capture my personal loathing for ‘reply all’ and still keep the spirit good natured.
    I’ll keep this, if I may, to use when I’m tempted to send a less polite note to ‘reply all’ offenders.

  2. Pingback: If I Could Wish Upon a Star, I Would Catch A Cable Car… | Stay Outside The Lines

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