Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Don’t CC on Unpleasant Emails

See what he did? If you feel you must send a critical or corrective email at work, think carefully about whether you should copy (cc) anyone.  More often than not, it only escalates the hostility. It often presents you in a negative way, even to the person being copied. It gives the appearance you are telling the cc recipient:

  • “See how I’m trying to do good work but she isn’t?”
  • “I want you to be aware of what I’m having to deal with!”
  • “This is in case you don’t know what a jerk Greg is.”
  • “Why don’t you do something about this situation?”
  • “I’m writing really tough because I’m playing to an audience.”

To the original recipient it sounds like, “You’re going to get in trouuuuble!”

Alternatives To CCs

1. Blind copy (bc) the higher level person, so the main recipient doesn’t know you are copying anyone. This can be effective when your boss has asked for a copy, but no good purpose would be served by making it obvious. Check #4 for another option.

2. Wait for the response and, if it there is still a need, forward both to the person you think needs to know. You may get a response that solves the problem and your boss will not have to deal with the first email.

3. If someone else (your boss or their boss) needs to know about an ongoing problem, just write to that person directly and ask for assistance. Don’t use the disingenuous method of copying them on an unpleasant email, under the guise of keeping them informed.

4. If someone else needs to be kept informed and have all the information about a situation (and there may be many legitimate reasons for that) rather than blind copying, which prevents you from sending a personal note, re-send your message or your response message or forward it to them. In that message explain why you are sending it or add any other information that is needed. Just be sure there is a good reason to send it to someone else, beyond pointing out the bad actions of the other person and your good actions in comparison.

5. Consider not sending an email at all when you can talk to someone in person or make a phone call. Emails are effective for documentation, but often they should be reserved for when your first efforts to solve a problem haven’t worked. Talk to your manager or supervisor to make sure your response, whether in person or by email, is likely to be effective.

There are certainly times when it is necessary to send a written message to clarify an issue, make a statement or point out a problem as a way to solve it.  There are also times when you must respond to those types of messsages, using a strong tone. However, a negative reaction and response is almost guaranteed when the recipient sees you have “told on” him or her to someone higher up. Is the cc necessary this time?


December 13th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 5 comments


  1. I used to get copied on things that were just ratting on people and wanting me to take sides. At first I wrote back and asked why I was copied, then at a staff meeting I discussed what you wrote here. I told them I didn’t want to get snitch emails, and if they talked to me first maybe we could work something out before they sent an email that would just make someone irritated. We have some problems here, but fighting by email isn’t one of them, thankfully.

    While I’m at it….I liked the last article about demanding more of yourself.

    Comment by wiseacre | December 14, 2009

  2. What if the person copied your boss and you are responding and you want him to know what you’ve written back about the first email?

    Comment by J.B. | December 14, 2009

  3. Tina says: Thanks, wiseacre, for your comments. Your announcement at the meeting was a good way to deal with that issue. Talking to the individuals who did it is also needed, but I imagine you did that too!

    J.B.: I wrote you an email to add to this. If you received an email on which your boss was cc’ed, one way to deal with it is to talk to your boss BEFORE you respond. Then, you can blind copy your response. Or, you can send it, then forward the response to your boss.

    Also, consider responding in person or on the phone, rather than by email. You be the one to stop the back and forth arguing. (If it’s too late for that, consult with your boss or with others you respect, before you continue.) Thank you for asking about this specific situation though!

    Comment by TLR | December 14, 2009

  4. I appreciate you writing about this topic…it isn’t mentioned very much in anything else and I think it should be. Something that has happened here is having someone higher up write a complaining letter to someone lower and copying that person’s boss. Really unfair, I think!

    Comment by movingtarget | December 15, 2009

  5. Tina says: Thank you for reading and commenting, movingtarget! Yes, that situation does sound inequitable, doesn’t it? Most of the time, if a manager has a complaint about someone, they should communicate with their counterpart in the other place, not with the lower level employee. I say “most of the time” because relationships and situations may have an effect on the situation. BUT, copying the boss as the first way of informing them, is not appropriate, no matter what the situation.

    One day I’m going to write an article entitled, “What Book Did You Read That Said That Was A Good Idea?” 🙂

    Comment by TLR | December 16, 2009

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