Getting Over the Fear of the Reply All Button

Allow me to begin this post with one of the most memorable (and hilarious) scenes from an HBO series, Newsroom. One of the shows’ main character, Mackenzie, accidentally sent to everyone in the company an email bearing a private sentiment that she was supposed to have sent to just one person.
If you’re not familiar with the series, that’s okay. You don’t need to know the whole plot to understand and maybe even relate to what happened in this scene:

If you experienced something like that in this lifetime, I feel horrible for you. You probably wished the earth would open up and eat you alive.
And while the above clip is fictional, we all know that horror stories like this actually happen in real life. Whether we’re aware of it or not, there’s this fear lurking inside of us everytime we send emails.
Did we send it to the right person? Did I hit “Reply” or “Reply All”?
The fear of the “Reply All” button is real, everyone.

The Worst Kind of Reply-All Fail

We’ve heard a lot of disastrous stories about the Reply All button. But the worst kind is when a customer service representative or a manager of a company says something horrible about a customer, realizing later on that the customer was copied on the email thread.
Here are some epic examples:
Total Fitness manager calls a customer an “idiot” and copies him on the email.
Customer Graham Gillespie emailed two Total Fitness branches to inquire about fees. He received a reply that said, “Out of principle I will not join this idiot.” The Total Fitness manager, so it seemed, was replying to the manager of the other branch, realizing later on that he copied the customer by mistake.
The manager tried to retrieve the email, but it was too late. Graham reported the incident to the higher management and the manager involved was reported to have left the company.
VP of a PR Agency calls a popular mommy blogger a “f*cking bitch”.
Bradlink Communications sent an email pitch to Jenny Lawson, the blogger behind The Bloggess, about something she’s not too keen on blogging about. So she replied the way she would often reply to PR agencies, sending a photograph of Wil Wheaton, collating some papers. Lawson received a (borderline offensive) reply from the PR agent, telling her that they would contact her again for advertising opportunities moving forward. The PR agent ended the email with, “Best of luck to you.”
That would have been the end of it, except that the VP of Bradlink Communications replied shortly after, accidentally copying Lawson to the email, “What a f*cking bitch!” Lawson immediately blogged about the heated exchange with the VP, and the story circulated the web for weeks.
Postmates CEO tells customer to “f*ck off”.
Just a few months ago, a Postmate user Erin Boudreau emailed the company’s customer service regarding some complaints. CEO and founder Bastian Lehmann jumped in on the discussion and sent a reply to the team with a “bad joke”. The email read, “Someone also please tell her to f*ck off.”
Horror of horrors, Bastian hit the “Reply All” button and copied Erin on his email. Erin posted the screenshot on her twitter account, and soon enough, blogs and news sites picked up the story.
Lehmann posted a public apology both on the Postmate blog and his personal twitter account. “I cannot find the words to describe how much I value our customers and how deeply I care about them being happy. There is no excuse for this type of conduct. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am sincerely sorry.
The commotion may be over now, but the story, unfortunately, lives on.

How to Get Over the Fear of the Reply-All Button When Sending Emails

1. The Reply-All button is not evil.
Remember that the Reply-All button is there to make the job easier for you. Imagine having to copy in a dozen email addresses when replying to an entire department. Reply-All is important especially when documentation and transparency is needed in the discussion. It’s a functionality that was placed there for our own good.
2. The Reply-All button is always second in the list.
Always remember, the Reply All button falls second in the dropdown list, more specifically for Gmail, Yahoomail, and Outlook. It’s not the default reply function, therefore lessening the chances for you to click it accidentally.
3. Think before you send.
The awesome thing about emails is, you have time to go over them before you hit send. It’s not like phone calls or face-to-face conversations where you cannot take back or edit what you already said. Take a minute or two to go over your message. Go over your message thrice even, if it contains sensitive information. It won’t hurt to be a little extra careful.
4. Be polite when replying to emails, always.
Whether you’re replying to a group or a single person, seriously, just.. be kind! Refrain from ranting about customers or clients with your colleagues. Discuss sensitive issues off the record. Bottom line is, there’s no tip or trick to being kind. If you practice replying to emails with genuine kindness, then you don’t have to fear accidentally saying expletives to your customers, colleagues, or your own boss. Kindness never fails.
So.. how about you? Any horrendous experience with the Reply All button? Share in the comments and let’s exchange notes!

Adel Zsurzsan

Adel Zsurzsan started as a Service Desk Analyst at transcosmos Information System. Currently based in transcosmos Hungary office, she now serves as the company's Business Development Advisor, helping the company grow and explore partnerships and opportunities. She speaks fluent English, Dutch, Romanian, Hungarian, German, French and Spanish.