I was CC'd on an email today asking to identify the name of a database table for our data modeling group - this person has the right to know this information, and I was planning on answering their question since I know the answer with confidence.

However, the email was directed at my co-worker, addressed to him in the email text, and he is our primary Database programmer. I do some work with our database programming language, but he primarily writes our database functions and puts in our modeling requests.

If I know the answer to this question, and he is not currently at his desk or available to answer it, should I respond with the answer, or wait for him to give his response?


3 Answers 3


In general answering a question addressed to someone else, just because you know the answer and they have not replied, is a breach of professional etiquette. The question was asked of that person, and while you may be able to provide an answer, the person asking the question may want an answer from the person most appropriate to ask.

However there are some considerations that may trump etiquette.

  • Is not having the information holding up fixing or addressing some issue that is important to the company?
  • Are you a designated back up for that role, and have been directed to answer questions as their proxy?
  • Is there some extenuating circumstance that is going to prevent the person asked, from providing an answer to the question? (Like they are in training that week, or in meetings all week that will likely prevent them from seeing the email)
  • Is there some other reason where the need to share the information, outweighs the expectation that you follow standard expectations? There countless exceptions to every rule in business.

However just because you felt, that answering the question was the appropriate action, does not mean that the person the question was directed to will agree. For this reason I always qualify that I believe the answer is this, explain why I choose to answer the question in the email, and ask for the expert to confirm the information I provided.

  • Yes, just because in this case it seems to be no problem doesn't mean it is that way every time. It is best to double check before attempting any replies.
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:58

should I respond with the answer, or wait for him to give his response?

I see no problem in you replying back with the answer, given you had permission to disclose so and the recipient right to know.

If you were included in an email it was intended for you to hear the writer's request. Given your coworker could have done the same if you were the main recipient, and it is ok in your workplace to do these things when unavailable then surely you can go ahead.

Another option you got is to write an IM or call your coworker, to quickly inform him about this (double check) and then reply if your coworker is still unavailable to reply.


If I know the answer to this question, and he is not currently at his desk or available to answer it, should I respond with the answer, or wait for him to give his response

Two things aren't clear: why you were CCed, and how urgent is the question.

In general, since the question was asked of someone else who seems to have responsibility for such questions, you should let the main addressee answer the question. It's effectively the same as if you were in a room and someone looked directly at the this person and asked the question. You may know the answer, but it was asked of someone else.

What could change the answer is if the writer of the question believes that the individual in question doesn't know the answer. Even though that individual might formally be the one to provide the answer, you were copied to help craft it. In that case, you should offer the answer to the addressee and let them respond.

The other possibility is that you know the question is urgent and that the addressee cannot answer in the expected timeframe. In that case, you reply to All, and say something like "I know this question is for [addressee]. But since he isn't available right now, I can help. [the answer is...]".

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