His recent article on the etiquette of using the CC feature in emails is brilliant. We’ve all used it. We’ve all been a victim of someone else using it on us when we’ve least expected it. Some of us may have even been thrown under the bus via the CC. It sucks!
If you’ve ever been confused about when and how to CC someone else in an email thread, read on. Below is the excerpt as it appeared in the Feb 2015 copy of Entreprenuer.
You’re at a party talking to your co-worker Dave. You’re having a nice back-and-forth about work stuff, the softball game next week, what the smell is …
As Dave is talking to you, he taps Susan on the shoulder and beckons her over. So now it’s you, Dave and Susan. But he doesn’t say anything to Susan or even disclose why he asked her over. He just continues talking to you like Susan’s not even there saying out loud everything you guys were discussing before she got there. Even the stuff about Susan. And she’s not saying anything. She’s just standing there, looking blankly at the space between you and Dave.
That’s what CC’ing is like. But that’s a particular type of CC – the “discreet insertion CC.” All of a sudden a name appears in an email. Why is that person here? Where did they come from? What is their agenda? Why is their presence not being acknowledged? This is surreptitious. Distasteful. Irritating.
Contrast this with the “Over-insertion CC,” which involves acknowledging that you’ve added someone to the email thread. It’s like the above scenario, only Dave says, “I’m going to bring Susan into this.” Still surreptitious, but less so. And a little less irritating.
Also of note is the “responsibility minimization CC.” It says “By involving someone else, I am making myself less culpable should whatever we’re emailing about go sour.” On the spectrum of Irritation, this falls between the above two types of CC’ing.
The most aggressive approach is the “defensive CC.” It says to the other party: “By involving this particular person, you are not going to so easily get away with what you think you’re getting away with.” Forget irritating. Here, you just seem vaguely sociopathic.
But the worst CC is the “blind CC.” It’s a move straight out of a spy novel. It says “Hey, go over there and stand behind those boxes. Just wait. They’ll come in, we’ll talk, and you’ll hear everything! And they will never know.”
The blind CC says to the CC’d, “I trust you with this information. In fact, I trust you more than I trust the person I’m betraying.” That’s the problem: It’s sneaky. And the 438th rule of business states, “If you benefit from the sneaky behavior of others, at some point the sneaky person will use the sneaky behavior against you.” Your emails will also be copied to someone else without your knowledge.
THE EFFECT ON THE COPIED
Sometimes you’re Susan. You’re the one that’s been brought into the conversation against your will. If you’re only the third or fourth person on the email chain, then you an obligation to acknowledge that you have been pilled into the conversation. And if you have any questions as to why that is, you have an obligation to inquire about what kind of contributions the CC’er thinks you can make. This is an investment. It says to everyone involved: “I want to be of help here, but if I have been CC’s here for ulterior motives, then please think twice about ever CC’ing me again.” It also says: “It may have been a mistake to CC me, because I am the kind of person who forces you to spend a lot of time explaining why I was CC’d. You irritate me, I will irritate you tenfold.”
The ethical problems are obvious: You’re changing the terms of discourse without the other person agreeing to that. CC’ing denies your colleagues a choice. Also, it lessens the importance of the CC’er and it forces the CC’ees to deal with a problem that they didn’t ask to deal with.
The reason you’re doing the CC’ing is less important than the effect it has on communication – both in the short and long term. The CC suggests you don’t fully trust the person you’re dealing with. (Which, of course, your don’t.) A healthy skepticism is an important virtue in business.
But communicating that skepticism in such an obvios way changes the terms of communication. It says “You and I can’t do this on our own,” or “I won’t let you do this on your own.” When someone inserts a CC, I am immediately less inclined to communicate openly with that person. It degrades our relationship.
The Esquire Guy also provided a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of email CC. For the entire article, pick up a copy of Entreprenuer today.