Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Respond to Emails

Today, I became everything I hate in an e-mail response.

I was typing a clarification email to a client (sent out to four people with me BCCed), and one of my interns stopped over at my cube to ask a question. Since he was patiently waiting, I quickly signed my name and hit send as I spun my chair around to give him my full attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my computer pronounce "Sending to... The guy who you intended and EVERYONE ELSE".

All hope was lost.
I frantically tried to cancel the email, but my reflexes were simply not fast enough. The deed was done. My intern continued to explain the details of his question, but my mind was completely consumed with the fact that I'd just committed a HUGE faux paus.

But why is this so bad? It was just a clarification email, after all.

I don't pretend to know all of the politics that go on with my client, but BCC-ing somebody is not an unintentional step. There are at least five clicks involved in doing this on my email client. And BCC-ing is typically done as a favor to keep somebody in the loop when they shouldn't be. So all I know, is that I was being told this as a secret favor,  and then I fucked it up by hitting the wrong button. Honestly, I have no idea why a BCC-ed person can reply all to people who didn't couldn't see they were copied,  let alone in 4 less clicks than it took to BCC them in the first place.

While I'm on the topic,  there are a couple other moments where emails have confounded me. For example, sometimes my boss will call me into his office to tell me that I am going to be spending the rest of the day at a client site to support emergent issues. As I get back to my desk and start to pack up the things I expect to need, my computer pings and I've gotten calendar items from the same boss with subject lines reading "Team meeting at 2 pm in fourth floor conference room ATTENDANCE MANDATORY". Now, I realize that these go out to the entire team, but I usually go back to his office just to clarify that the all caps warning was not intended for me.

The next type of email I don't get are non sequitur follow up emails. For example,  if I talked with someone ad nauseum about what Linux system we are going to use,  agree upon a solution,  and then I sit down at my desk just in time to receive an email stating,  "Per our conversation,  I am purchasing a Windows 8 tablet." This typically leaves me completely confused,  trying to figure out if they are being passive aggressive, if they simply can't type,  or if they are smoking a very potent hallucinogen and actually think that was close to being relevant.

The third type of email that I don't understand is passive aggressively CC-ing people. I typically try to email directly with somebody about issues I have found with their work, because I think that pointing out mistakes and copying people's bosses and important clients only makes them more defensive. And I think it's just generally douchey to make a spectacle of someone's mistakes before they have the opportunity to correct them. In response I have occasionally gotten vendors that will be frustrated with the fact that I have corrected them, and will send an email to me, my boss, our client, our client's boss, the vendor's boss, the water delivery man, the mailman, all the secretaries, and the President of the United States saying something along the lines of: "What exactly is it you want from me this time?"

I guess the vendor thought he was putting me on the spot here, by making it seem as if I have had completely unreasonable requests. Apparently, he had been complaining that he should be paid more to fix all of my unreasonable requests. What I don't think he entirely think through is the fact that I could, and would, reply all with a list of the bullshit problems they have had and continue to have.

After having that list received by the rest of the involved parties, you  can bet that I got a corrected document back very quickly. He also received no additional pay. So please, don't carbon copy people on an email chain if you haven't fully considered the consequences of having an open dialogue. Or do, because it is incredibly satisfying getting to destroy irresponsible people in reply all.



PS. What is the most embarrassing interaction you've had over work email?

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