Do you work at a company where everyone is copied on everything? This is both inefficient and ineffective email etiquette. My work has shown me that so much email a company generates is unnecessary, ineffective, and primarily unread. Many of these are sent as a cc or a bcc. The fact that these acronyms stand for “carbon copy” and “blind carbon copy” should give you an idea that their time has passed. Who even remembers what a “carbon copy” is?
I want to point out some of the reasons I’ve seen these used, and give you some ideas for improving your effectiveness with email.
Cc for FYI
Bad Idea: Sometimes a cc is used to “keep people in the loop.” Perhaps you copy someone on an email because you want them to know what’s going on. This is not the best way to keep your co-workers informed. First, your recipient has to read through the message to figure out why they got it. And then they may not glean from it what you intended them to know. What’s more likely, if the message is not addressed to them, they probably didn’t read it at all. Maybe they just deleted it, or perhaps they moved it to a reference folder, or they marked it as unread but kept it in their inbox. All of these are ineffective for the recipient, because they cause clutter, but also you have not met your objective by sending it to them in the first place. This is one of the most frequent causes of communication breakdown in an organization.
Better: If you want someone to know something you’ve put in an email, cut and paste the information and send it in a separate email directly to them. Then there is no chance for misinterpretation and a lower chance that it will be overlooked. Alternately, address them directly in the original message, near the top. For example, “Hi Jane – I’m writing to summarize our meeting. Mary, I’m copying you because I wanted you to know what we agreed upon yesterday.”
Cc for CYA
Bad Idea: Maybe you’re not really sure if you’re on the right track, so you copy your boss, figuring that this will give her an opportunity to correct you if she doesn’t agree with your course of action. See above. She’s probably not reading it, and copying her does not absolve you of responsibility anyway. This is another source of communication breakdown within an organization, sometimes with damaging results.
Better: Run your intentions by your boss prior to the communication. Or, as above, address your boss directly in the message and invite her input. For example: “Jane, I think we should go with the 5×7 flier. Mary, please let me know if you disagree.”
Bcc for Private Communication
Bad Idea: You’ve probably heard at least one horror story about a Bcc gone embarrassingly awry. A common use for bcc is to share a message with someone that you don’t want the recipient to know you shared. Ethics aside, there is simply too much potential for unintended consequences with a bcc.
Better: If you want to privately copy someone on a message, send it to the primary recipient, then go into your “sent” folder and forward the message, alerting the “private” recipient why you are sending it to them. For example, “Mary, below is the message I sent to Jane to call attention to her frequent tardiness.”
Employing these ideas can allow you to set an example for communication within your organization, minimize communication breakdowns, cut down on email clutter, and save everyone some time.
If you have other ideas or thoughts, of course I’d love to read them in the comments. Thanks for reading!