When should you hit ‘reply all?’ Pause before you send, say experts

Jen Fisher, the work-life integration and chief well-being officer at Deloitte, is on a self-appointed mission to end a modern-day blight: the “reply all” #email pestilence.

Reply alls, when an e-mail writer addresses their message to one recipient but ccs multiple individuals, may seem harmless. And while some may even consider it a vital cog in organizational communication, oftentimes the thread continues for days and serves no purpose for the majority of recipients.

Ms. Fisher’s annoyance with the “reply all” surfaced when she returned to work after spending the summer blissfully disconnected from #technology, she writes in a recent blog post for Thrive Global.

As soon as she powered her laptop, she was bombarded by an inbox full of inane reply-all e-mails – ”Got it!” “On it!” and “Thanks!” to name a few.

“As humans, we’re very quick to adopt technology but slow to adapt to it,” she continues in the blog post, referencing Work Better Together, a book that she co-authored with Anh Phillips.

“And being deliberate about how we use technology means we can put it to work for us – not the other way around. The goal is to make conscious rather than unconscious choices about what to do with our time and attention. And there are few tech habits less mindful than reply all.”

Ms. Fisher says it’s important to understand e-mail is not an effective collaboration tool. If a large number of people need to work together on a big project, a much better tool to #communicate would be specialized software, like #Trello or #Slack. Even when using collaboration tools, individuals need to be mindful and schedule specific time to check them, she says.

Since most e-mails are part of a business feedback loop to let managers or supervisors know there’s action on an ask, Ms. Fisher suggests the team leads build an environment of trust.

“The solution is more communication up front,” says Ms. Fisher. “For example, try having a conversation with your team to create an understanding that when you send each other something, you trust the recipient is on it. No reply all necessary! Make it clear to your team that if you need direct feedback, it needs to be indicated in the e-mail.”

E-mail etiquette tips

Bruce Mayhew, a Toronto-based corporate trainer and conference speaker and an expert on communication and leadership topics, says e-mail is still the best tool if you need to confirm and share information, ask questions, send documents, and create a permanent record of a transaction.

But Mr. Mayhew says it’s important to understand how to #communicate well through the tone of your e-mail, or your “digital body language.”

He says if one isn’t cognizant, people can, by virtue of their e-mail, come off as rude, bossy, hostile or even passive-aggressive. And if an existing relationship between the recipient and sender is already strained, then it is very likely their digital body language will be interpreted negatively.

When you write effectively, you actually save time, reduce stress and build a positive personal and professional reputation, he says.

Bruce’s five rules of e-mail etiquette are:

  • Write as if you were face-to-face.
  • If you are negatively triggered, take a break before you respond. Make sure you respond with intention versus reaction.
  • Remember that whatever a reader interprets from your e-mail is real to them even if you didn’t mean it.
  • Remember your priorities are not necessarily your reader’s priorities. Write in a way to make your reader want to respond or pay attention.
  • Every time you click “send” you are affecting your personal and professional reputation, so be fully aware of that