When To 'Reply All'

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While some say email is a dying breed (some colleges don't even assign students email addresses), the fact is, many people still rely on email for personal and work communication. Even though this avenue of communication is considered a dinosaur by those shifting to texting or direct messaging for their main modes of keeping in touch, there are still etiquette elements that confuse some users and cause consternation among their peers and colleagues. Chief among them is "reply all."

Innocuous enough, on the surface, "reply all" is a great convenience. Instead of typing everyone's email address on a distribution, you can easily send an email to everyone on the list. However, we've all heard stories of how things can easily go awry when people mistakenly reply to an entire list instead of one person.

No one likes to get emails they don't need to see, and even if the solution is a swift tap of the "delete" button, using "reply to all" on email messages can irritate people. Consider these situations and think twice before you send your next email to everyone on the possible recipient list.

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Who needs to know?

Do "reply all" when everyone receiving the email really needs to know what you have to say. For example, when your boss asks everyone on the team via email to step up to handle a particular, timely project. Reply to all if you're volunteering so no one else does extra work you are already handling. However, if you are too busy, or have three other projects on your docket and cannot pick up the extra work, there is no need to reply to all. No one else needs to know what you're doing; just reply to your boss to let her know you aren't planning to take on the project unless you hear back from her.


When you're just saying "thanks," or a similar message, it's usually not necessary for everyone to see it. Don't reply all with inconsequential information or notes; send those directly to the people who need to see them only. Otherwise, you'll likely inspire everyone else to roll their eyes in disdain when they open your email to find it contains nothing of consequence.

Personal comments.

If you're adding a personal comment to your note, don't include it in a "reply to all" message. For example, if you're asking how a person's date went last night, or commenting on a particular personal detail, send it only to the person intended, not to the whole office.

Angry emails.

Don't reply to all if you are angry. Generally, it's best to avoid responding to anything in writing if you are upset, but it's even more dangerous to blanket the whole office with an email written in the heat of the moment.

Snarky messages.

By the same token, do not use reply all if you are being snarky, scolding or disrespectful. Keep in mind, anything you put in writing can and will be used against you. Sending a less-than-kind message out to a whole list of people increases the chances that you'll regret it later.

Bottom line.

Always think before sending a message to a group and ask yourself if anything in the message is appropriate for everyone on the distribution list. Then, question whether or not everyone on the list would appreciate the contents of the information: do they need to have this email? If not, change your reply to reach only the necessary recipients, and everyone will be happier.

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