We’ve all heard horror stories how accidentally hitting “reply all” leads to embarrassment (at best) and can even be detrimental to one’s career (at worst). They can even start a “storm” of misdirected—and often emotional, controversial—messages that halt productivity (and even shut down servers).
On an everyday level, using the “reply all” button judiciously is a great way to demonstrate your respect for those on the list. It’s simply a matter of courtesy: if the message doesn’t directly pertain to—or affect—the recipient, don’t send it to them.
There are, however, some instances when “reply all” is perfectly appropriate and some good can actually come out of it.
Scenario: A team decides that they want to be “kept in the loop” about all work done for the project.
In this case, you should reply all to all messages and make sure you’re very clear who you’re directing your note, either in the subject line or within the message (For example, Dave: How is the research coming? Can I help in any way?).
Scenario: You’re supervising a team completing a major sales push, project, study, etc. You want to encourage and motivate them a bit more.
In this case, a few thoughtful messages to the entire group can boost productivity greatly and keep them working cohesively. This should be coupled with communication with everyone individually.
Scenario: A colleague invited you and two others to dinner.
Since this is an exclusive group, replying all to RSVP is a great way to discuss plans. If the group is larger, it’s probably best to simply reply to whoever sent the invitation.
Scenario: A colleague sent a mass email with a link to a quirky blog that he found interesting.
Email threads are a fun reprieve. If you have something meaningful to add, send it along to the group. If not, opt out!
The Bottom Line: You have to think twice about the emails, and who you write them to, at work. Consider “reply all” like any bold gesture: misuse looks foolish and overuse diminishes its impact.