Skip to main content

Reply to all

I was recently doing a set of interviews and trying to schedule times for those interviews. There were multiple interviewers, so in sending each email message, I signed it with all the interviewer names and I carbon copied the other interviewers. Amazingly, none of the people being interviewed thought that it was appropriate to do reply all; they all replied just to me. Of course, in writing back, I re-added my fellow interviewers to the recipient list. And when the interviewees wrote back, they again replied only to me.

I was annoyed, but I’m often annoyed. I didn’t bring the issue up, but when we were debriefing at the end of the interviews, one of my fellow interviewers said something like I can’t believe that none of these people knew to reply all on something like this.

In contrast, I also see times when people reply to all when they should not. Most frequently, that has to do with a mailing list. Someone wants to reply to the person posting, but not the whole list. But they choose reply to all and everyone gets to see the personal message [1,6]. But I’ve seen many other instances. I’ve had cases in which there has been a casual discussion about an issue among a small group of people (e.g., faculty and students) and then someone sends a reply to all that includes information that only a smaller group should see. There are times that someone sends a message to all the science faculty (e.g., Are you giving a final?) and someone decides to tell everyone their answer (e.g., Yes.). All of these situations irritate me.

I can’t claim that I’m completely innocent of either behavior, but I generally do my best to pay attention to who my messages are going and to reflect on whether that is the appropriate group of recipients [7]. I wish others would, too [8].

Oh well, I’m sure that the next version of Proofpoint will automate that task for us [9].


[1] For some reason, Grinnell often sets Lyris [2] lists to use the list as the default reply-to address. I understand that people don’t necessarily notice that behavior, since it’s not typical behavior [5]. I’m ranting about the cases in which the message goes to both the sender and to the list.

[2] Lyris is a mailing list manager, akin to Listserv and Mailman. It differs in that it doesn’t provide an archive to subscribers. It’s also harder to manage than Listserv [3]. I have no idea why we chose it [4].

[3] I manage both Lyris lists and Listserv lists. I’d much rather use Listserv.

[4] I have no idea why we choose most of the software we choose. In many cases, the reason seems to be others do it.

[5] Yeah, that’s another wonderful feature of Lyris.

[6] Okay, not always everyone. On the lists I moderate, I do my best to catch personal messages and delete them. So only the other moderator and I see them.

[7] I will admit that I too often engage in the less appropriate behavior of adding more recipients, particularly when I send a ranting reply.

[8] I don’t wish that others would add more recipients; I wish that they would be thoughtful about who they include in replies. There are times that you should reply all; there are times you should reply only to the sender; there are times that you should reply to a subset of the recipients; and there are times you should add a few selected other folks.

[9] Since this is written, and not spoken, I should note that that final sentence is intended to be sarcastic [10].

[10] Since my sarcasm usually needs to be explained, I’ll note that the College has decided that people on campus can’t be trusted to decide whether or not a link is real or fake, and so use Proofpoint to check for us.


Version 1.0.1 of 2017-04-02.