Email etiquette in a Super Bowl commercial. That sounds like an oxymoron to me, but there in the second quarter of the Super Bowl the Bridgestone “Reply All” ad made a key etiquette point perfectly.
Two guys are sitting at their cubicles. The first guy tells the second guy he has just “replied to all” rather than just used the reply button. We don’t even need to know what was in the email—it’s readily apparent that it was a mistake. The culprit jumps up, races around the building and then drives to various sites grabbing people’s phones, tablets, and computers before they can read the email, and finally rips out the mainframe wiring. When he gets back to his cubicle, the first guy apologizes. He was mistaken; the reply was really only to him. Bridgestone takes the credit for making it possible for Mr. Reply All to be able to get to so many locations before the people could read the email.
Despite what the commercial showed us, stopping people from reading an email once they’ve received it is impossible. Recall features only work if the email hasn’t already been opened. How many times have you received an email asking you to delete a message you’ve received without reading it? When I ask seminar participants what they do when they receive such an email, invariably they answer that they immediately read the email to see what’s up.
It’s so easy to hit the “reply all” button rather than the “reply” button and end up wishing you hadn’t. Disparaging comments about a co-worker or, worse yet, a boss, are among the most common mistakes. The lesson is really very simple. Emails are public documents. They can be received and read by people who really shouldn’t see them. Before writing or replying to an email, ask yourself, “Could I post this on a bulletin board for anyone to read?” If you answer “yes,” then go ahead and send it. But if you answer “no,” then think twice before hitting the send button.
Another email mistake that is so easy to make is sending an email to the wrong person. In many email programs, as you start typing a name in the “to” field, options appear. If I type “ka” to send to Katherine, my choices might be Katherine my agent or Katherine our administrative assistant or even Karen a real estate agent. I want to be sure I send it to the right person. One piece of great advice I heard: Fill in your “to” field as the last thing you do before sending an email rather than the first thing you do when preparing an email. Then, double check who is in the “to” field before hitting the send button.