Originally published March 16, 2015
Before replying to an email message, ask yourself these questions:
- Is a reply really needed? Do the intended recipients need to hear from you? If not, don’t reply.
- Do you have something new and meaningful to say? If not, don’t reply.
- Are you upset, distracted, or in too much of a hurry to get the message out of your inbox to give it much thought? If so, wait until later, and either take the time to compose a more considerate response, or decide that a reply is unnecessary.
- Is the sender expecting a reply from you, and if so, is this reasonable? If so, don’t put off replying too long — you don’t want them to worry needlessly or to have to follow up with another message due to your lack of response.
- Is this the latest reply in the thread? Scan all messages in your inbox before replying to a previous reply. This will prevent threads from getting out of sync, with different replies in different messages.
- Which is more appropriate — replying to all, or replying to just the sender? If you reply to all, will that be appreciated by all recipients? If you reply to just the sender, will the others miss out on an important reply? Think about this carefully, and choose the better option.
- If you reply to all, is it likely that many of the recipients will be annoyed? If so, don’t do it.
- If you choose to add or drop recipients, will those added or dropped appreciate it? If not, don’t add or drop the recipients — leave the original distribution list alone. And make sure that any attachments previously included in the thread are re-attached for the benefit of the new recipients.
- If you are being asked a question, can this question be answered in a community or enterprise social network (ESN) so that others can answer and benefit? If so, suggest to the sender that they post in the most relevant community or ESN group, and answer them there, or copy the question to that community or group, answer it there, and then send a link to your reply to the sender.
- Is this message a long back-and-forth exchange which could be done better in a phone call, meeting, instant message chat, or ESN thread? If so, move it there.
An email storm happens when a message is sent to a very large distribution list, the distribution list is visible in the TO or CC fields, and the recipients were not expecting to receive the message. This usually triggers a long sequence of replies from recipients using “reply to all” and asking to be removed from the list. This will result in many others also replying to all, telling everyone else to stop replying to all, or saying “me, too.” This email storm may not subside for hours or days. It’s all because we hate to be bothered with messages from people we don’t know or messages that are not important to us.
When an email message is perceived as spam, many people will reply to all with one of these responses:
- Stating that they never signed up for this list, often angrily
- Asking why they were sent the message
- Asking to be removed from the list
- Asking others to stop replying to all, often in a patronizing manner, with no sense of the irony of replying to all in the process
- Saying “Me, too”
If you receive such an email, be prepared to keep receiving many more in reply. Here are your best options:
- Ignore and then delete each reply, repeating until the storm subsides
- Create a rule to send all replies to the trash folder
- Reply only to the sender (NOT to all) asking them to recall/remove/delete the original message
To avoid starting an email storm:
- Don’t add anyone to an email distribution list unless they specifically request it
- Use the BCC field to avoid exposing the email addresses of the recipients and to prevent reply to all
- Use opt-in channels instead, such as subscriptions, Enterprise Social Network groups, and activity streams
If you send out an email that results in complaints:
- Acknowledge your mistake
- Apologize and promise not to do so again
- Recall the original message
- Remove anyone who requests doing so from the distribution list you used
- Use a different channel (with opt-in) to distribute the message
You may think that you’re doing people a favor by including them in your message, but you aren’t. I recall a sales email discussion board in which all sales reps were added to the membership without their knowledge. The thought was that this would be a great way to get the forum started with lots of participants. Instead, after an initial post, the next 100 messages in the forum were all “take me off this list!” This effectively made the forum dead on arrival.