20

Consider this scenario:

A colleague from work (be it a boss or another coworker tasked with coordinating something) sends an e-mail to several people including you, whereby it's expected that all of you respond and put others in cc.

Now you go to the restroom and by chance meet this mail sender and express your position to him in person, such as "About that e-mail - everything works for me".

Now you're in an awkward situation:

  1. If you respond via mail "Everything works for me", it's weird to this person why are you writing this again because you just told them that a minute ago in person.
  2. If you don't respond to this mail, other people involved see you didn't respond and might think that's to show disdain or due to negligence.

What to do?

  • 47
    What exactly is awkward in telling others that you've discussed it? I simply don't get the question. – Oleg V. Volkov Jan 6 at 21:56
  • 40
    How is it awkward? The other recipients of the original e-mail were not involved in the hallway conversation and may still expecting a reply from you. – chepner Jan 6 at 21:56
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    I would also like to echo the question raised in the previous two comments: can you explain how and why it would be awkward? In fact, I believe the opposite: I think it would be awkward for the person you talked to, to not send a followup email, because that person will now be left wondering: are you going to inform the others about the decision or did you pass that responsibility over to them? (That would be real awkward, telling others "Everything works for Jim".) Are you going to respond to that email at a later time? Are you going to inform everybody in person? – Jörg W Mittag Jan 7 at 8:25
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    "As per our in person conversation: X". I usually use emails to track discussions. It's hard to keep track of in-person or on the phone conversations or meetings. After a meeting I usually send a summary of what we discussed asking for the participants to check, fix & add if anything is wrong or missing. – Giacomo Alzetta Jan 7 at 10:26
  • 6
    It's not remotely awkward – Strawberry Jan 7 at 11:57
26

It depends:

  1. What kind of question is it? "hey who wants to go for lunch?" is a different question from "hey could you bop the fizz for Bigclient?"

  2. does this conversation need your express consent or does it just need a lack of opposition? If it is the latter you can avoid emails, if the former then a paper trail is nice for everyone involved.

  3. Does it matter to the other CCs what you answer? If you got part of a task and someone else got the other half its a good idea to communicate with your partner.

The combination of these three factors means that there are only one kind of emails you can answer verbally: the kind that doesn't matter to the business, where you don't need to communicate with the mailer and where nobody cares if you do.

Many workplaces have other tools for the informal kind of communication: Slack, MS Teams or something similar. If that is the case, please use those. There are clear advantages to separating "serious" and informal communication streams.

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  • 54
    "Please use Slack or any other chat-tool for one-way messaging." I must countermand this; having only one medium for written communication (such as e-mail) has strong arguable advantages (like familiarity) and AFAIK there is no evidence that e-mail is less effective than chat for one-way messaging. – SeldomNeedy Jan 6 at 21:45
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    I have to hold my vote on this answer: Please add a reasoning on why Slack, teams or any other chat-tool for that kind of messaging is better than the current setup for OP. [citation needed] - Opinions are fine when supported by evidence. Otherwise it is just noise. – Mindwin Jan 7 at 12:31
  • @StephanBranczyk looking around Asana seems to be a more formal task-tracker which is exactly not what I'm talking about. – Borgh Jan 7 at 13:02
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    @SeldomNeedy: Your position is simply not backed by reality, i.e. people don't simply use e-mail for all written (digital) communication because it simply isn't the superior option in all cases. IM clients are favorable for casual and quick exchanges, whereas emails are more favorable for external communication, formal communication or high-information-density messages. Suggesting that all communication should go across a single channel is just going to lead to important and inane messaging to mix in the same channel, which will annoy everyone involved. – Flater Jan 8 at 12:11
  • The rephrasing helped a bit, but your link-text "clear advantages" is powertagged; the advantages listed by the author are not quantified. As such, it's unclear whether the pros outweigh the given cons or in what situations/organizations that's the case. – SeldomNeedy Jan 8 at 19:04
100

What to do?

Follow the process. There was an email, requiring an email response. Send it.

The fact that you met them in person is not really relevant here. There are two reasons why you should still send the email response:

  1. If for any reason, the reference of the answers are needed after 6 months down the line (or even after 6 hours), the email will still be there, the memory of discussion at the restroom will / may not.

  2. You met one person (the original sender), but if you're expected to CC all others from the original email, they won't be knowing your opinion unless you send the reply.

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  • 37
    Also, during the conversation in the restroom you could say something like: "Ok, I'll put this in the responsemail so the others are also in the loop." (and then the person might say: "ok" or "not needed" and you know what to do.) – Pieter B Jan 6 at 13:14
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    @PieterB and if you forget to do so at the time, you can simply preface your email with "As I mentioned to Bob when I bumped into him earlier" or similar. That way Bob knows there's no new information there and can stop reading. – Muzer Jan 7 at 9:45
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    If it needs to be more formal: 'To keep everyone informed regarding our unplanned discussion earlier, here's a quick summary:' – James Carlyle-Clarke Jan 7 at 9:45
  • To continue this answer - the start of the email might read "After discussion with Bob ..." – UKMonkey Jan 8 at 15:06
57

In this case, because there are other people in the email conversation, you should still reply-all so everyone is up to speed.

Even where it's just a one-on-one, I will often write emails anyway. Something like:

Just to put our discussion in writing:

This is [What we've agreed / what we're doing / what I need from you by [deadline]] etc.

This is because things mentioned in person are easily forgotten, especially once any amount of time has passed, whereas emails are archived, searchable, and an immutable record you can refer back to.

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  • 1
    Also may be put in a disclaimer in the end like "Kindly correct if anything is wrong", again it all depends on the situation and who the sender is. It might be over polite if it was a peer. – GoodSp33d Jan 7 at 11:49
  • It can also be a lot less formal than that. "Hi all: Joe, thanks for our chat just now. All, I expressed to Joe that..." – T.J. Crowder Jan 7 at 18:20
17

You should still respond with your answer.

To avoid the "awkwardness", you can add:

As we discussed earlier, …

or

Per our earlier discussion, …

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  • "Per our earlier discussion" the fighting words of the corporate world. Allegedly. Be warned that some people dislike that. Not really sure why/where people get that impression but supposedly "Per our earlier [discussion/email/smoke signals]" is sometimes taken to mean something along the lines of "You are either illiterate or weak in the mind if you can't remember me mentioning that thing to you earlier". Depends on the culture in the office - this wording has always been fine to me but I know some people who have been greatly offended by the phrase. Or used it as if it's a great insult. – VLAZ Jan 7 at 14:50
  • Yes, this is the correct response. You can even send a follow up email subject, "I want to recap today's meeting..." – Dan Jan 7 at 14:51
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    @VLAZ If that's in response to someone asking the same question again, or out of the blue in a new email correspondance, then I agree. But when you're taking the initiative and performing an already-agreed followup (as in the OP's scenario), I can't imagine that reaction being common – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 7 at 15:24
1

Even if you already expressed yourself verbally, the email serves two purposes.

1) The CC list of people are all notified of what you said, and who else knows that you said it. So it is also an easy way of making sure everyone knows who knows.

2) The written email creates a written document of what you said that can be referred back to at any time by anyone to verify/remember what you said.

In general redundancy doesn't hurt anything. The lack of it can.

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