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Email etiquette question

  1. Oct 19, 2012 #1


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    I sent out an experimental sample plan a few days ago. I copied four people, including our division director.

    Today I got a response from one of the recipients that made it clear he either didn't read the plan, or didn't understand a word of it. I won't claim to be a great technical writer, but this plan was pretty simple to understand. This guy's question didn't make him look good. Kind of like the kid in class who would raise his hand and say, "Teacher, could you say all that again, I wasn't listening."

    Here's the thing: he only replied to me, not "Reply all".

    I (gently) restated the entire sample plan in simpler terms. I sent it off to him, but I included the original recipients on my answer. By including the boss, I may have made the guy look kind of dumb - not my intention! But in my experience, email communications become a mess when people don't "reply to all".

    So what do you do when you get a reply that doesn't include all original recipients?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2012 #2


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    It's very dependent on the e-mail. I think in this case I would have just replied to the slow guy.

    There are times when I'll add back in the other recipients, but usually if somebody just replies to me, I take that as a request for a "sidebar" conversation.
  4. Oct 19, 2012 #3
    I think I usually do the same as you: just include the rest of the people. I usually do that unless it's a reply from somebody who I know well and if the reply is not for public consumption.
  5. Oct 19, 2012 #4


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    If the response is something that concerns everyone, then I would reply all. There have been times where the respondent tried to make it private when it should be a group discussion and I replied including all to get it back into the discussion.
  6. Oct 19, 2012 #5


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    I always think it's best to do the individual side conversation if doing otherwise could make someone look bad. Also, you can be a bit more forceful with folks in 1-on-1 than you usually should in a public forum.

    This DOES of course depend on the situation. If someone is consistently needing sidebars, then maybe they're needing a different job and it's a waste of time to go out of your way to be polite to them.
  7. Oct 19, 2012 #6
    I feel supervisor or project manager should always be cc-ed. Just for the record in case something goes wrong tommorow because the other person misintrepreted your email.
  8. Oct 19, 2012 #7


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    If this was for a major project, then I'm with rootX. I wouldn't be comfortable having side conversations without some accountability regarding discourse. It also helps prevent the propagation of misunderstandings and/or misinformation. If he was being lazy or didn't understand it, then he made himself look bad.

    That said, there have been times when I've sent a "unicast" reply in response to some trivial detail about something, but this was more in an effort to prevent spamming the others who were cc'd with information not relevant to their responsibilities.
  9. Oct 19, 2012 #8


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    Yeah it's a relatively big project. Actually it's the first project since the economy really went kapoot, so it seems big, at least. I think everyone's a bit out of practice with how to do teamwork :smile:.

    And especially since it's right at the beginning, it's critical for everyone to be on the same page. If he's confused, we all need to know.
  10. Oct 19, 2012 #9
    I think you screwed up royally lisab. Oh wait, can everyone read this?
  11. Oct 19, 2012 #10
    Hopefully it didn't really make him look that bad, because in that case, it might make you look somewhat inconsiderate. However, as long as both his and your emails were polite and professional, I doubt it was a big deal.

    Personally, if someone replies to me individually, I reply back individually. If I think it is something that should concern everyone, I'll reply to the individual and then send a follow up email to my original email (not reply to the reply,) and say something like "In case there's confusion regarding XYZ..." and then restate what I had stated in the personal email. That way it stays professional and bases are covered without causing unnecessary conflict or embarrassment for the confused individual.
  12. Oct 19, 2012 #11
    I read that as; The guy who didn't read/understand/pay attention made himself look "kind of dumb".

    Call a spade a spade & "there's no crying in baseball.", especially is this has to do with a financial bottom line.

    On the personal side though, I think it would be just to tell that person privately their inquiry was "kinda dumb" and why. You should lead the horse to water at least once.

    Oh and of course bring the person up to speed on that reply all thing.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2012
  13. Oct 19, 2012 #12
    What really bugs me about emails when someone requests a receipt that you read the email!! It's always annoying but I do send my confirmation.
  14. Oct 19, 2012 #13
    Well said & quite diplomatic, an important thing with peer relations.
  15. Oct 19, 2012 #14
    There is 'on the record' and 'off the record', if the answer repeated the knowns and did not include new information, I would not have cc'ed anybody and risk that the recipient would not trust me ever again, keeping things off the record and making him look stupid. Actually, if possible I would have called him by phone and settle it - not leaving records

    Actually things like this have been my main job for several years, getting a plan to be executed and that requires a lot of tete a tete's
  16. Oct 19, 2012 #15


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    ^ Probably the best way to handle it.
  17. Oct 19, 2012 #16


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    Normally I would reply to the individual, I would always feel "covered" doing this as the email trail is there. As others have said though, it depends on circumstances and a big project may activate my "caution radar" and then I would reply all just to play safe.
  18. Oct 20, 2012 #17
    Dyslexia? Hyperlexia?
  19. Oct 20, 2012 #18


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    I normally put the original recipients back on the email chain unless it's a quick question that one person has. If the questions persist, I will usually put everyone back on the chain with the assumption that I must not have conveyed myself properly and the answers might be useful to others.

    If you're feeling guilty about putting everyone back on, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Nobody should ever expect that an email won't get forwarded or cc'd. If he doesn't understand that, he's got bigger worries about looking dumb.
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