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It happens sometimes that somebody (likely) meant to reply all in an email chain, but (likely) accidentally just replied to the last person that sent the email. What is a polite way to inform them of this/ask if they actually intended to reply all?

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    And you are confident they did not Reply with all moved to BCC? – TafT May 24 at 7:36
192

Hi Bob - just so you're aware, seems like you haven't hit reply all there.

No need to dress it up any more than that.

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    Short and concise. It's not polite to waste people's time with a lengthy email that could have been one sentence or less. – Aaron May 22 at 13:17
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    Okay but what if his name isn't Bob – Sombrero Chicken May 22 at 20:46
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    @SombreroChicken You should of course call him (or her) Bob anyway, following my answer exactly, and not changing it in the slightest to fit the situation ;) – berry120 May 22 at 21:10
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    And be sure to sign off as berry120. – TonyK May 22 at 22:12
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    The Bob part is necessary because when people try to get too chummy you need to occasionally call them by the wrong name to let them know that you don't really care. Unless their name is Bob of course. – Broots Waymb May 23 at 13:45
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Be straightforward.

I'm assuming, in this case, you were the last sender and by clicking the "reply" button, you are the only one who got that email. Then, One way could be, reply to the email which was only sent to you and inform them about the mistake like

Hey, did you mean to reply-to-all?

That should do just fine, no need to overthink it.


Considering another case:

Where you were not the last sender, you were missed in the email whereas, the intention was to have you (and others) in loop.

You may have received the update from someone else and upon "investigation" you discovered it was probably because of the mix up in "reply" vs. "reply all".

In that case, probably the best way out is to reply to the original thread and request for any update. If it was a genuine mistake from the sender, you should see the email they sent out previously to be forwarded to the entire recipient list pretty soon.

  • @Will Thanks for being that guy. :) (Actually, me goes and sulks in a corner) – Sourav Ghosh May 22 at 11:08
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    @Will In C#, it is perfectly fine to use ?. (at some point) haha – Rafalon May 22 at 11:13
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If you are quite confident they simply made a mistake, save them the time and effort of resending. Just reply-all yourself, and say something like

Copying everyone else in on this message

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    Pretty much everybody does this after a year or two. It's up to the sender to call "eyes only". – mckenzm May 22 at 4:44
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    It may not be appropriate in some more formal threads were clear visibility of who wrote what is important - forwarded citation may be hidden, and email coming from wrong person may be ignored. In these sensitive cases, e.g. if the sender is your manager, and attention of someone higher in the chain is needed, asking the author to re-send the email correctly is safer. In usual, everyday cases - yeah, re-sending the message yourself is the simplest option. – Frax May 22 at 14:23
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    Meanwhile, while you're "saving them the time and effort", the original sender has realized their mistake and already re-sent the e-mail to everyone, "helpfully" omitting you the second time around so you don't get duplicate messages. Now everyone except you has been spammed with the same message twice. – jmbpiano May 23 at 18:46
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You can say something polite like:

It looks you intended this email for all of us, and I'm guessing you meant to hit Reply All?

To avoid problems like this, I would like to share a handy email habit that I learned about at a previous workplace. Here it is: when someone in the team adds new people in an email thread, they would start the email body with a sentence like this:

[CC Bob Smith, Alice Jackson]

Because changes in the CC field are very easy to miss in most email interfaces, this would point out the change and indicate that the change was intentional.

Similarly, if someone removed people from the To: or CC: fields, they would start the email body with a sentence like this:

[To Alex only]

Again, that points out the change to a reader who might have missed it, and indicates that the change was intentional.

If the people in your workplace are in the habit of using a system like this, it makes it obvious when somebody accidentally hits Reply instead of Reply All, and you can confidently add back missing email thread participants without needing to ask permission first.

  • While this sounds like it could be a positive change, how would you suggest the OP introduces it to, and gets buy in from, their team? – Player One May 23 at 13:03
  • @PlayerOne Just start using it and see if the habit spreads. Nobody imposed it on me, I just picked this up. I don't want to stray too far from the original question so I don't think I should elaborate more in the answer post. – Flimm May 23 at 14:07
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It seems some people didn't get the message, let's include them now.

That way you aren't blaming anyone. It's also useful when by mistake a certain individual gets taken out from the conversation and then you can say

Just including XY in the conversation, it seems he didn't get some of the messages.

Again, not blaming anyone, even though a perceptive person will be able to see who made the mistake in the conversation chain.

0

What I personally do, is if I think that the original respondents would benefit from the email, I either forward the email to them or reply to the email saying something like thanks and add the other intended recipients.

No need to do anything that can be taken negatively and there is a possibility that the respondent will understand that the others would have benefited from his email.

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