37

Sometimes I get emails where the emails says:

Hi [SomePersonNotMyself] do you know what is causing this issue?

This is an email CC'd to me but the person is not specifically asking for my help. Should I chime in if I know the answer or just let the person take care of it?

3
  • 69
    Someone you work with is looking for a solution to a problem. Why wouldn't you provide an answer, or guidance as to how to proceed?
    – DaveG
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 23:20
  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere Im cc'd because I work with the thing that this user is stuck with and is asking about I'm assuming
    – Lightsout
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 23:37
  • 10
    If you're worried if you should answer, why not quickly send the "SomePersonNotMyself" a teams message stating that you can answer the mail if he'd like?
    – Mathlight
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 18:19

11 Answers 11

113

Think about it. I have a question. I sent a mail to one or more people. I cc’d you. If you are the only one who knows the answer, what do you think I want you to do? Not tell me and let me waste my time looking for an answer because you feel it would be rude, or give me the answer?

Not giving a co-worker an answer that you know is ten times ruder than replying to a cc’d message.

10
  • 66
    Of note, this is one of the few times Reply All is actually appropriate. Let everyone in the group know that an answer has been provided so others can stop wasting time looking.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 12:11
  • 86
    @FreeMan In my experience and position "reply all" often seems appropriate. Obviously not on company wide emails and stuff, but a large percent (if not the majority) of email threads I'm involved in have multiple people CCed, and all of them should be in the loop on the responses to the emails as well as the originals. For example, I want the project managers I work for to be aware of the responses I send clients and for them to have a copy to reference if necessary.
    – JMac
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 12:45
  • 22
    Reply-all is almost always appropriate in conversation emails, but not "let me know if you're interested" type. @FreeMan
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 14:41
  • 5
    I agree with the answer. The only exception is if the answer would directly make someone else bad (e.g. they failed to do their job).... Then you have to tread very carefully! Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 14:43
  • 19
    On a side note, cases where reply all is not appropriate are almost always cases where a CC was not appropriate in the first place and a BCC should have been used instead.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 23:07
56

It really does depend why you were CC'd in.

Sometimes it's an FYI, in which case common courtesy is to read and remain silent unless invoked.

Sometimes it's as a training opportunity e.g.

"Junior person, do you know why this happened?" Junior: "I'm not sure I think it could be X?"

Then you (as a senior who knows the answer) might say:

"Have you looked at Z and Y? That might point you in the right direction?"

Sometimes it's a matter of urgency and they are trying to get an Answer ASAP - in which case, expediency trumps courtesy - so it's okay to reply.

I would ask the person (if it's the same person) who is sending the original email - what their intention is, so you can gauge your response based on what they want.

7
  • It would seem obviously that they are trying to get the issue resolved but I'm not sure if they are trying to go through that person they are addressing or whoever wants to help.
    – Lightsout
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 1:40
  • 8
    I like your last paragraph. I would add that depending on the sender and primary recipient, it might be better to directly ask the recipient if they want you to answer the question on their behalf. Like if a VP emailed my supervisor with a question and CCed me, I wouldn’t presume to go directly back to the VP over my supervisors head at all. But I would ask my supervisor if they wanted me to answer the question so my supervisor doesn’t have to. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 14:15
  • 2
    If it's urgent and they want a solution from anyone who can answer, why would they only CC you?
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 14:39
  • Mostly the rules goes by that who was sent the email should respond, the others are just in copy and should only respond to save the life or situation. If you are unsure, would not be a bad idea to ask to your manager about how to respond and how to behave in this cases.
    – Fedeco
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 15:33
  • 1
    Asking the person whether you can send them an email seems stranger (possibly also ruder) than just sending the email. IMO you cannot ask them; you have to infer. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 18:11
37

Answer if you know the answer. That's why you were CC'd - in case you know.

Don't answer if you aren't able to meaningfully contribute to the subject.

5
  • 27
    Point 2 is very valuable, an "I don't know" answer is useless, wastes time and electrons. (I'm looking at you Amazon answerers!)
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 12:12
  • 1
    @FreeMan If you were on the To: line and there were only a few people on the To: line or you were mentioned specifically in the body of the e-mail then IDK is a useful answer since it tells people that they will not be getting any other response from you and they need to find someone else. (I know someone who if you call out to them but they can't clearly hear it they just ignore you instead of saying they couldn't hear you. Probably intended to get people to speak up, but mostly inspires feelings of murderous rage.) Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 13:26
  • 3
    @FreeMan "I don't know" can often be a right answer. That can give valuable feedback: now they know asking me is a deadend. Else, they have to wait not knowing whether I don't know the answer, haven't read their email yet, or am still researching. That's not to say you should always reply "I don't know" if you don't know. That depends on the question and the people send to.
    – Abigail
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 13:30
  • 3
    In my enterprise experience, I've only ever expected "IDK" as an answer from the primary addressee. Even then, it's ideal to add some pointer to who might know.
    – Therac
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 16:03
  • @Therac: That or a pointer to documentation. "I don't know, but I would suggest looking at X, Y, and Z," is much more useful than a bare IDK (assuming that X, Y, and Z are actually relevant!).
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 18:33
12

I ask a question to one person so that person is the one responsible. If I get no answer, I hold that person responsible.

Other persons in CC are either to be informed or other people that may contribute to my topic in some meaningful way. I want them to answer my question if they can, that's optional. If they got better things to do, they should do other things.

I do not want the CC'd people to tell their opinion if it's not helpful. Noone but my TO-People should write "I don't know but I will research it".

You are in CC -> You are involved, one way or another. You can help -> You help and respond. You cannot help -> you stay quiet and listen

9

Different locations and even different departments have different cultures and conventions.

As partially demonstrated by the plethora of answers above, this is not a question that has a widely accepted universal answer. It will depend on the culture you are operating in, and here cultural norms could be as narrow as your department within a large organization.

My bottom line advice is therefore to ask either your direct supervisor or a more senior person within your specific department what the norms there are if they are not already clear from context.

For example, I am part of a law firm. In this field, often who said something and when can be very important. I frequently CC my assistant and sometimes the assistant of my target recipient. The assistants need to know to help maintain the records, help maintain the calendar, and sometimes provide other assistance. But I very much do not expect any of the assistants to hit reply all under ordinary circumstances. In some circumstances, if an assistant did answer I might insist the target re-send the same information because source matters. But that is my current office.

I worked my way through law school as a programmer. It was very much expected in that office that if someone asked for help in email, the first person who had the answer should respond and in some cases multiple different possible answers to technical issues would be provided in one email thread. The difference between "To:" and "CC:" never mattered there. (Though of course receiving something as "BCC" is either a mistake or a very strong indication that you should not use reply all!)

My suspicion from what you have provided is that you are probably in the second case and you should respond if you have the answer and no one else has. But in the end it depends on your particular workplace culture.

6

If you want to respond, I'd suggest you consider responding briefly to the addressee rather than the author -- "Hey, I know you've got this under control but if I can help just ask. I'm guessing they frotzed the bork before they gletched."

2
  • I suspect you meant addressee there
    – A C
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 22:23
  • Yeah. Tupo being foxed.
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 22:31
3

A simple rule of email etiquette is that if you are in 'To' line you have an action item or your input is requested. But if you are in the 'CC' line you are being included so that you are aware of the email and its contents.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows this or practices it regularly. This often leads to this type of confusion and misunderstanding. So in general terms, you'll have to use your judgment and follow the norms of your workplace.

In this particular situation, it looks like you have the information requested despite being in the 'CC' line. The best approach here might be to reply directly to the sender, not reply all.

Obviously, the nature of the information is important. If it's something of a sensitive or confidential nature you don't want to provide an answer unless it's within your job role and responsibilities. Defer to your manager if in doubt.

1
  • This is not a rule of (business) etiquette. The rule is that if you're in the To then you have an action item or your input is REQUIRED, if you're in the CC then your input is optional. Like if I CC my boss and then they respond I can't tell them gtfo they were only CC'd not invited to reply. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:28
3

TL;DR CC Yes, BCC No

Be very, very careful. Depending on the situation, people may be addressed via To (primary recipients), CC (carbon copy) or BCC (blind carbon copy).

I know the question was about CC, but always make sure you know before you hit Reply All. If you were BCC'ed then your name/email address will not show in the email headers. There are multiple reasons why someone might be BCC'ed:

  • Keep you informed of a sensitive situation
  • Avoid huge amounts of "Reply All" traffic (typically if there is only one "To" and everyone else is BCC'ed - the poor man's email list)
  • Keep you informed of a non-sensitive situation but where your direct input is not needed

A regular Reply should never be a problem to any email. Even if you were BCC'ed, the sender knows they sent it to you and should be prepared for your response/comments/critique/etc.

But a Reply All should almost never (there is always an exception somewhere...) be done if you received it as a BCC. All the recipients of your message, except for the original sender, will be surprised that you replied. Depending on the nature of the message, that can result in some very awkward situations. Arguably, the fault goes to the original sender, but that really doesn't solve the problem. Example:

From: The Boss
To: Employee
CC: Direct Manager
BCC: Existing employee who may get a chance to move up a level in the hierarchy
Subject: One more mistake and you're out of here

If you are on good terms with The Boss and the Direct Manager, perhaps informed verbally about the situation so you can plan appropriately, then it may be perfectly reasonable for you to be BCC'ed. But it would be really, really bad for your to Reply All because then the Employee will know you were BCC'ed. If said Employee is simply not up to job requirements but is not a bad person (no stealing or cheating or abuse etc.) then you may have now put yourself and Employee on very bad terms.

2

I don't know the power dynamics of the company where @DarkCygnus works, but in the absence of an explanation as to why other people are Cc'd into a conversation, it would seem rude to me to Cc someone and then expect them to keep mute.

I will often start an email by saying something like:

Hello Alice,

I've Cc'd this to Bob, Charlie, and Dan, who are better qualified than me to investigate this issue.

Or in less cordial circumstances:

Hello Xavier,

[this is Cc'ed to Yve (my manager) and Zak (HR) so that my responses are on the record]

So I would take an unannounced Cc as an invitation to participate if I am able to provide a meaningful contribution.

If I am Bcc'ed (and not behind a listserv), then that's different: perhaps they don't want the principal recipient to know that I'm receiving it, so I should tread carefully.

I concur with the earlier responders that being Cc'd generally implies you are not obligated to respond, and to avoid responding with vacuous one-liners when you're only Cc'ed. But if you're really in doubt you can simply reply-to-sender and ask.

Lastly, phrases like "does anyone know X", "do you know X", or "who knows X" are English language boilerplate, not to be taken literally; you should not answer "no" unless you are the only recipient of such an inquiry or the inquirer says they need replies from everyone.

1

Let's break this into two parts

  1. Should a person who is cc'd respond if they know the answer?
  2. Why would someone who might be able to answer be cc'd?

First, if someone in your organization asks a question in an email that you are included on, why wouldn't you answer? They need an answer, they included you on the chance that you have the answer, you have the answer. Don't overthink it, just give the answer. There may be reasons for holding back like not wanting to be the "go to" person for all questions, but whether you were included as a "to" or a "cc" is irrelevant.

So why might a person who could know the answer be included as a "cc" instead of a "to"? In some organizations, particularly bad organizations, if a problem is sent to a lot of people, they tend to have the attitude of "someone else will deal with this". People learn to put one or maybe two people on the "to" line to try to make sure someone takes responsibility, and then include anyone else who might have an answer as "cc"s.

Bottom line: don't worry about "cc" vs "to" when deciding whether to answer a question in an email.

-5

Should I chime in if I know the answer or just let the person take care of it?

Since the person isn't asking for your help, you shouldn't offer it unless the addressee asks for your assistance.

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  • 11
    That's oddly ambiguous. Are you saying that unless they're on the "to" list they should not answer even if they know the answer ? I'd be pretty annoyed if I found out someone I'd cc'd did know the answer and they didn't respond for that reason. I don't know what other point cc-ing them would have if not to bring the matter to their attention. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 12:31
  • 11
    They did ask for his assistance by CC'ing him on the email, if they didn't want his assistance they wouldn't have CC'd him. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 13:11
  • What kind of experience has lead you to this answer?
    – red-shield
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 5:06

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