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Five ways to stop reply-all responses in their tracks

Ten years ago my company had an unforgettable reply-all maelstrom.

CH2M HILL, the global environmental firm where I worked for 28 years, had outstanding information technology staff, tools, and processes.

As a communications manager, I felt lucky when I received access to send all-users emails to various offices in my region. Access to those email lists was a privilege held only by leaders and IT staff.

But on that day ten years ago, a printer sent a nonsensical e-mail to all 22,000+ employees in the company, worldwide.

And so ensued havoc.

HUNDREDS of highly educated, trained professionals replied all.

Some pointed out the email didn’t make sense. Others said "please take me off this distribution list," clearly not understanding how things work. And the most infuriating emails replied all to say "stop replying all."

This nonsense went on for an hour or so until IT was able to shut the thing down.

CH2M HILL hired smart and talented people…but I was baffled by people's ignorance.

Trust me on this one…don’t waste people’s time and clog up their email boxes by replying all. You’ll just get everyone mad at you.

The average office worker receives 121 emails per day (not including spam!). On that day, people received far more than that.

Here’s how to avoid this chaos:

  • Blind-copy: When you send an email to a large group, use the blind-copy feature. If you don’t know how to do that on your email program, look it up. When you use blind copy, your recipients will not see each other’s names or email addresses. They also cannot reply all.

  • Set expectations: If you cannot or choose not to blind-copy people, include your expectations at the top of the email about who needs to reply and who doesn’t. You can say "Please reply only to me, and not to the entire group."

  • Follow up privately: If someone does reply all, email them privately and ask them to remove the group from the conversation. If the reply alls continue in a group email and you were the initial sender, you can send an email requesting that people stop.

  • Use a communication tool: Consider using a communication tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams instead of email for group discussions. These tools make it easier to have real-time conversations and reduce email clutter.

  • Educate your colleagues: Educate your colleagues on the importance of not replying all in email. Share examples of how it can create clutter and confusion, and suggest alternative ways of communicating with the group.

Let me know if you can use help with internal or external communications, marketing, or leadership.

I help professional services firms avoid BORING and boost employee engagement, productivity, and readership. I translate technical, complex, and lackluster language into accessible, dynamic, story-driven text. Get known in your industry through outstanding thought leadership content. Walk your talk through outstanding, effective communications with your employees and clients.

Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.

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