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"Reply to All" - The Nuclear Button for Employee Relations Issues...

Who hasn't been there?  You meant to reply to one person only, but instead it went to everyone.  Hasn't everyone had an experience like that?

You just hope at the end of the day, when it happens to you, that it's a small explosion, not a nuclearEmail one.

Of course, the size of the explosion is out of your control.  Most of the time, it's determined by who the original recipients of the email were before you got cute with the response.

Small group = manageable.   Medium-sized group = bad.  Distribution List for the entire company = Nuclear Winter....

Everyone's got a story on this.  Here's a great one from the January issue of GQ:

"One summer, we had an attractive intern, to put it mildly.  When her internship ended, she emailed everyone saying how great it was to work with us.  The right thing to do would have been to respond, "It was great working with you too."  But because I was on such familiar terms with her, I wrote back, "I'm going to miss you, baby.  We had great times together.  Your Latin lover." 

Without thinking, I hit "reply all", and it went to the entire company.  And when I say the entire company, I'm not talking about 15 or 20 people.  I (sic) talking about hundreds of people.  Even the employees at various subcompanies got it.  I felt like a total #$*.  My bosses immediately emailed me, telling me to try and recall the message, but it was too late; people were already opening it.  I got responses within seconds: "Who is this?"

Some people where annoyed.  Some were baffled.  Many knew who I was and couldn't believe I'd made such a stupid mistake.  Responses to my email poured in for two or three days.  I took the next day off out of total embarrassment but learned a valuable lesson:  The "reply all" button and the "reply" button are really close to each other.  Luckily, there wasn't any major fallout with the company, but I still hear about it to this day".

My favorite part of the story is the group that is confused and not even focused on the content and the obvious career-limiting blunder you've made.  They want to know what you need from them and why you are emailing them since they've never heard of you...

"Why are you sending me this?", they reply.   As you read their innocent response, you think, "Please move along.  Don't look at me - I'm hideous"....

Then, my second favorite part of this morality tale of public humiliation happens.  That's when people start using the "reply to all" button to encourage everyone to stop using the "reply to all" button.

That's ironic.  Too bad it's lost on you, because you'll twist in the wind for another week at the minimum.

On the positive side, you become much more alert at your desk for at least a couple of months... 



Ah, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Been there, done that except that my all employee message with typos or the one last week when I confessed to not meeting a suspense to a larger body than necesary were non-events compared to others I have seen - your example above included.


Had someone do that early in my e-mail career. Instead of replying to HR to recommend termination after a review, she hit reply to all and it got copied back to the "soon to be termed" employee. Luckily, the employee was at lunch and after a quick bribe to the e-mail admin (ME!), the message was deleted before the employee saw it.

The other really ugly "reply to all" was one of my managers was referring to a really difficult consultant as a b*tch and she replied to all. To this day, she will crawl under her desk if you bring it up.

Chelle Parmele

Urgh, I get that sinking feeling just reading that example.

I was working at a magazine several years ago, and there was a very temperamental writer the editors were trying to keep happy and productive. After the 30th email the writer had sent to the editing team just that day, one of the editors whipped out a scathing reply with several rather horrible things to say about the man and clicked send, thinking she'd just sent it to me. Instead she'd replied back to the whole group of editors - and the writer in question.

On the upside, he was so stunned, he didn't send a single email for the rest of the day.

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