Wednesday, May 18, 2011

She said, he read (and he read, and he read..)

Several times in the recent past I have written an email to a single person asking them a question. They replied to my question, but in their reply they carbon copied (cc'd) several other people. In one instance the cc'd person was relevant. In another instance the cc'd people were most definitely not relevant, and I was surprised to find the responder write, "We discussed your question and decided..."

I understand people are trying to be helpful, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.

When I telephone someone, there is usually a social contract that the telephone call is just between the two of us unless otherwise specified.  Somehow this has been lost in email. (Maybe it was never there in the first place?)

Several lawyer friends have told me they don't conduct any business or send anything remotely important over email - they do everything in person or over the phone. "It's not discoverable", they say.

Despite having the typical Computer Scientist's dislike of telephone conversations, I am now beginning to appreciate their value.


  1. I've never done this, but have had this happen to me. In all cases it has been justified and handled correctly (snipping of irrelevant e-mail history etc.).

    I do see how this could be upsetting, though. What was it about CC'd reply that you felt was inappropriate?

    My current employer made me go through lots and lots of legal training in my first few weeks on the job. One of the things that came up repeatedly was that e-mail was company property and you'd better not put anything in there that you're not comfortable sharing with everyone else in the company. I learnt my lesson and now almost never put anything in writing except in cases when I'm communicating with close friends.

  2. I've had this happen to me. In at least one case, it was a deliberate attempt to make an end-run around peers who were strategizing privately in order to bring an issue to higher-ups, and the results were disastrous.

    The converse is also aggravating. How many times have I cc'd all of the relevant people in an email in order to schedule or otherwise arrive at consensus, only to have each one reply to me individually with the expectation that I would compile & negotiate? Arrgh.

    -Principle Investigator

  3. tragicomix - Well, the email I sent was to a specific person in a specific role about a specific topic. From my perspective, if I wanted the input of these other random people that were cc'd, I would have written them in the first place. They were not in the same organization nor in the same role as the original recipient.

    And funny enough, after I replied with a polite and very generic "Thanks", the original recipient wrote back cc'ing several different random people.

    Anonymous PI - Excellent point, I dislike that too.

  4. Yes, I hate that. Once I having a back and forth discussion about leading a panel, how to set it up, how to discuss, etc. It was all very casual. Then when we wrapped up hir proceeded to forward our emails to the entire panel/recipients (too tired to be bothered to clean up 4 lines of information and send out a few files?). It's also one of those things where if you complain people will generally look at you strangely and think you are overreacting.

    I think in anon's case that might be fierce guarding of personal schedule. I am but a wee grad student, but have observed the repercussions of having your colleagues know multiple times when you are free is a dangerous, dangerous thing.