14

Some people use reply-all a lot. Oftentimes as a default reply rather than only when appropriate. This can result in a large volume of email which is unrelated and unnecessary and add additional processing time, etc, as well as generally be annoying.

Regardless, some people seem quite trigger happy on the reply-all front, even when it is not appropriate (there are times when reply-all is best).

What are ways to persuade or convince coworkers to stop abusing reply-all?

By the way, you can actually disable the ability for others on the same Exchange network to reply-all within Outlook using this Outlook addon but this does not stop mobile/web replies.

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    How do you "reply all" over the phone? Forced conference? – pap Oct 3 '12 at 14:37
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    @pap: I think he means mobile-phone access to Exchange -- ie. not through Outlook. – pdr Oct 3 '12 at 14:44
  • Interestingly e-mail has a standard field (Reply-To) intended to request replies to a specific address. Many early e-mail clients defaulted to a Reply when this field was present rather than a Reply-All, but sadly Outlook (the last time I checked) and many other modern e-mail clients don't take this sensible precaution. – Mark Booth Oct 3 '12 at 15:03
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    Frontal Lobotomy – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 3 '12 at 15:45
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    What is the problem being created by people using the reply to all? Instead of trying to eliminate reply to all you should try to deal with the problem you are having. Also why is it your problem. Seems to be a management problem from here. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 3 '12 at 18:19
13

I have a few tricks, for different cases:

  • Streamline what responses are needed - when a response is required, make it a very obvious part of the email how and to whom the response should be sent.

  • The first time someone falls off the boat with the plan to not use reply-all, I gently point it out and mention the impact ("this mail is being sent to 100 people, only 1 person needs to collect the replies")

  • I'll even step up into that when a reply-all thread has gotten going for no clear reason - often these threads are one or two trigger happy folks. I often get more pointed when people have gone more than 1 go-around with the Reply-All activated. For example, "there are 100 people on this email. If everyone was to hit reply all to reply on this topic, each of these 100 people would recieve 100 emails, generating a net effect of 100000 - please select your audience when replying to this thread".

  • Ask the person in question face to face - some people have very personal reasons for why they do this, and they may be forthcoming offline.

  • Follow up with your or the person's management or your own - point out the nature of the epidemic and why you want it to stop. Also be ready to note the frequency. 1 reply-all once a quarter is hardly worth the converstaion. 10 reply-alls every day points to a time-wasting company trend. This is really only helpful if you're talking about a very select group of problem-people - if it's erratic cultural norm, you may have to address it differently.

The best I can think of is to start inspiring people to think before they hit "send". Often I see the case where people have failed to realize that the group is much bigger than they originally thought - so the audience recieving the mails include people who are totally confused who have no idea what is going on or who is sending the mail. It's easy to think everyone shares in a desire for knowledge or communication - it takes a bit of pushing to realize that widespread sharing is only good in smaller groups.

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  • +1 for Ask person face to face. Some people may have motives like trying to bring visibility to a particular subject matter. Some people's email tone changes drastically when their boss is CC'd. – MrFox Oct 3 '12 at 20:41
6

Other ideas:

  1. Put up the email manifesto
  2. Start using email header acronyms to make it more obvious when something is just an announcement
  3. Bcc people when they might be tempted to reply all and only one person is collecting the info
  4. Reply all to blatently unnecessary reply alls to train people. (So the 99 other people don't think reply all is appropriate.) Obviously you need to limit this technique.
  5. Request that the next person to reply remove you from the list. Or a subset of people. Simply restricting the replies to a subteam may not help lest the excluded people reply; causing a fork in the email.
  6. Call a meeting. Get everyone together. Pick up the phone.
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2

Usually this kind of a reply-all thread starts as a question to a group of people, but then everyone just keeps replying to everyone even if they are not related to the issue.

In this case, if a reply-all thread breaks out that I am invovled in, I send one email that takes people off of the list with a message "Restricing to TEAM X".

Hopefully they get the hint after you do this a couple of times.

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2

I've seen something like this happen when somebody sends an email to a number of aliases at once - sometimes because the sender is trying to turn their laziness into everyone else's urgency, but not always. :) And sometimes the discussion spins out of control.

Something specific I'll sometimes to to get things under control is send an email out, in which I only send it to the one or two aliases where it's appropriate for the discussion to continue, but bcc all the other aliases on the thread. That way the folks who really care know how to stay in - and the masses of people who just want it to stop usually get what they want.

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0

Reply-All is very attractive because it gives people a voice across the whole group with one click, makes them feel their response is important and is exciting to use.

There was a study that receiving an email lit up the same part of the brain as when receiving a new gift on your birthday, so it is no wonder some people get carried away sending and receiving reply-all's and are as you used the word "happy".

While the intent is good, the effects can be counter-productive. What one person does is puts in bold red "Do Not Reply All" - simple and usually works.

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  • This is linked in the original question already. – enderland Oct 3 '12 at 18:08
  • @enderland: oh, whoops! well, don't under estimate the study, there could be a solution there....best of luck. – Greg McNulty Oct 3 '12 at 22:56
0

I have had my share of replay-all e-mail chains, and abeit it was a slow and painful process, I managed to un-train the people doing it eventually be showing how e-mail was not an effective means of communication for the issue (which would have the e-mail version of creep scope as new ideas/thoughts were added).

I did this by taking the e-mail and splitting it up (since they quickly became huge amounts of text) into issues, and then using an issue tracking software to manage them. I have used both github and slack for this, but I am sure there are plenty of other options as well. Basically this lets people focus in on the specific issues that they care about, while still having access to everything. Better yet, you can @mention someone if you feel they particularly should have a say in something, whereas if you simply included them in the reply-all, there would be a large amount of irrelevant text for them to sort through. This worked well for the majority of types of chain e-mails with reply-all that I was facing, although not all, mainly scheduling ones. For scheduling, again I propose using another software - while many e-mail clients have scheduling features, they sometimes aren't the greatest, so I have sometimes resorted to making excel documents with each person's name and available (and preferred) times (make sure it's editable by all).

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-1

In order to slow down a chronic 'Reply-All' happy coworker:

  1. Wait for the next time he/she commits the offense.
  2. Then, listing only the offender on the 'To' list and all other recipients on the 'CC' list, send your own 'Reply-All' with one word in the body of the email:

    unsubscribe

Two points:

  1. This strategy uses the appropriate amount of force to inform the chronic offender that he/she is sending unwanted and disruptive emails. It is direct but it is not rude. If it cuts down on interruptions, you'll probably be doing everyone a favor.
  2. Use this strategy sparingly because (at least in my experience) such chronic offenders are rare.
    1. Emphasis: Most of the time, you'll probably want to receive your coworkers 'Reply-All emails. YMMV.
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