Reply/All

By now, I’m sure you have all seen the TV commercial for Bridgestone tires with the office worker whose colleague tells him he just hit reply/all on what had to be a seriously inappropriate e-mail (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9xGw-SWej8). The sender freaks out and attempts to destroy every computer and mobile device in the company before anyone can read his e-mail (riding on his Bridgestone tires, of course), only to find out his coworker was jerking his chain. It’s pretty funny.

Probably most of us have had at least one reply/all e-mail disaster. Personally, I once hit reply/all to a message where I asked my partner if so and so “had the cajones” to do something…only I used a different word than cajones. And the person in question was a woman. And I copied her. Oops.

I was also recently the recipient of an accidental reply/all. We were raising money for our new fund. I sent an e-mail to one of the prospective investors asking their status on a decision.  The person replied with a one word reply, clearly intended for her colleague, that said: “Strange.” About 3 minutes later, I got another e-mail from her saying, “Strange, I thought we had already replied to you. Oh, and sorry I hit send too soon on that last e-mail. I got a new Blackberry and I’m having trouble with it.” Uh, yeah, sure you are. Nice try.

But, frankly, the accidental, career limiting reply/all is neither the topic of this blog nor my least concern. It happens to us all. Some more embarrassing than others. We get through it. And, they all make for great stories over a few cocktails. It is the deliberate and inappropriate reply/all that annoys the crap out of me. You know exactly what I’m talking about and you know exactly who you are. Stop it now!

The worst offenders seem to be parents of other kids in your kid’s class or on their sports teams. An e-mail goes out from the home room teacher. Hey, we’re having an end of year party. We need some people to bring cupcakes and drinks and some people to help clean up. Then the reply/all barrage starts.

Reply/All: I will bring 12 chocolate cupcakes.

Reply/All: I will bring paper cups

Reply/All: I can stay from 3:15 to 3:30 to clean up, but I have to leave no later than 3:35.

Reply/All: I will bring some of those big garbage bags, with the ties.

Reply/All: David is out of town and I have to pick my younger son up at hockey so I can’t help.

And on it goes until your IT administrator calls you into his office and informs you that you have just caused the entire company’s computer system to crash and forced him to purchase emergency server space at great cost.

I once complained about this to my wife and she made the semi-valid point that it’s important to copy everyone on this type of daisy chain so each subsequent respondent sees what the prior person had to say. Anything less and the after school party, she reasoned, would almost certainly end up with 2 gross of cupcakes for 15 kids and nary a juice box or napkin. I don’t really buy it since the original sender can manage the inventory, but I begrudgingly concede the logic.

However, there’s simply no countenancing the reply/all sports e-mails. My daughter’s softball coach sends an e-mail a few days before every game to ensure he has enough players. (Quick digression: these kids are on a team; don’t they have to be at every game and, if they can’t, don’t they have to let the coach know. I’m just saying.) There are 14 girls on the roster and, I swear, every one of their parents hits reply/all. I get these e-mails on my work and personal e-mail addresses, both of which go to my Blackberry, so I end up with over 25 e-mails that look like this:

Reply/All: Hannah will be there.

Reply/All: Sarah will be there.

Reply/All: Piper will be there.

Again, you get the picture. People, before you hit reply/all, or perhaps just after you’ve hit it, but before you’ve hit send, look at the list of recipients. Ask yourself one simple question: will anyone else care? You already know I don’t.

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About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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5 Responses to Reply/All

  1. I don’t know which is worse — the annoying overuse of reply/all or reply-all-impairment. People who insist on responding to what is clearly a group communication by hitting “reply” and causing the original sender to have to redistribute. For example, our IT guy — who we love (hi, Troy! We love you!) — never hits reply/all, so we have email strings like this:

    Me to Troy, cc Tim: We need to find a convenient time for you to set up the new desktop.

    Troy to me: Would Thursday work?

    Me forwarding to Tim, cc’ing Troy: Tim, would Thursday work?

    Tim, properly using reply/all: No, how about Wednesday?

    Troy to Tim: Sure.

    Tim, forwarding to me, cc’ing Troy: OK we’re on for Wednesday.

    And so on.

    And then there was the opposing counsel who lost his shit because he cc’d his client on an email to me and I hit reply all, causing his client to get a brief glimpse of how astonishingly wrong and idiotic his lawyer is. But that’s a whole nother story.

    • Amy – you are the Abbott to my Costello, the Laurel to my Hardy, the Moe to my Curly. I almost added the “I can’t find the reply/all button syndrome” to this rant, but I was afraid I would water it down. I agree it is annoying, but for me not as bad as the 75 e-mails about cupcakes. That said, thanks for bringing this important national problem to everyone’s attention. It is something we need a serious dialogue about.

  2. BlueLoom says:

    And then there are the times when you reply to a whole e-list when you meant for your msg to go to just one person. A list member was being particularly snarky, and someone commented on it gently on the list. I replied (to that person only, or so I thought) that so-and-so was in general a really difficult person, that she had been thrown out of two weaving guilds, that she had been booted off the executive committee of a major conference, etc etc, all b/c she’s just a really difficult woman. And sent if off to the whole e-list. This was at least 10 years ago, but at conferences, I still get people who come up to me and say, “Remember when you totally trashed [insert name] on WeaveTech?” Oh, yes. I certainly do remember. [Face turning bright red.]

  3. Dan Grabois says:

    If I had the slightest computer savvy, I would make a little plug-in app for Reply All. It would work like this:

    You get an email. You hit “Reply All.” A notice pops up: Reply All – are you sure? You hit Yes or No. Damage control before the fact. In fact, the app should be called Damage Control.

    Worst Reply All I ever got: the former holder of my job writes to all students and faculty saying she has fought with the bosses and is quitting effective immediately. A student replies to a friend (and to everyone else including the former holder of my job): “I’m kind of relieved.” OUCH.

    • Actually, this app exists! A buddy of mine at a big law firm told me his firm uses it b/c too many lawyers hit reply/all and revealed all the secret stuff they were talking about to the “other side.”

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