Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

One More Time: Avoid Embarrassing People In CCed Emails

Think Before You CC

This may seem to be my One Tune Topic for the last few months, but it seems that it cannot be emphasized enough. Consider these snippets from emails, all which were copied to several people (some not even part of the organizations involved.)

• “If you don’t have the skill to do it, at least send it to someone who knows how to do their job and stop wasting my time.”

• “Your email makes no sense at all. Rewrite please.”

• “I have tried to resolve this situation amicably only to face your nastiness time after time.”

• “I reviewed the work of you and your committee and frankly am amazed that you would consider this to be the quality I expected, especially from someone who is supposedly trained to do this kind of thing. If this is an example of your work, we need to be talking about getting you some additional training. There is no way I could list the problems in one email, so apparently I will have to take the time to meet and work on this with you. I’m available Friday afternoon but after that will be gone for two weeks, so let me know if you can meet then.”

• “Re: Your request to attend the conference. No.”

I’ve changed some details in those emails to protect the organization and those who sent the examples to me, but they are all essentially real. How would you like to be CCed on those? How would you like to be the recipients? How does it present the sender? Will any of them improve things?

What If Nothing Else Is Working?

In one of the examples above I was blind copied but several others were obviously copied. I immediately called the sender to register my dismay. She said, “Well, nothing else has worked and I figured if I embarrassed her maybe she would finally do something.”

Do you think that will happen? Even if it does, will the damage ever go away completely?

If the performance or behavior of an employee you supervise concerns you, talk to the employee directly by phone or in a personal email. No employee I’ve ever met develops a more positive approach to work as the result of being chided in a message that is copied to others. If the thing that concerns you is something that others need to be reminded of as well, handle it with a training approach for all, after you have dealt with the other employee personally.

If a coworker is the source of frustration or anger, talk to your manager or supervisor and be factual about what is concerning you. If you CC your manager in an unpleasant email you may find that both the employee and the manager resent your method of informing. That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems, it just means you should be direct not sneaky.

If you have something unpleasant or discomfiting to say to anyone, say it to them alone. Don’t wait until you are in an email “room” and bring it up. Have you noticed how brave or tough people can be when they are showing off for others!

“Look what a tough leader I am?” “Look how direct I am.” “See how I tell people where I stand?” “Notice that I don’t take anything from anyone?” “See how saintly I am compared to that other person?”  Those are the underlying messages conveyed by unneeded CCs. 

If you receive an awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate copied email, let the recipient know you would prefer to not be included on such things. If those who CC were told it was unnecessary or uncomfortable they would be far less likely to preen over their rough and ready approach. If you are a manager, stop such copying when you see it happening. If you are a subordinate, consider doing what one employee told me about: He wrote back directly to the manager and said, “I don’t think I was supposed to be included in that correspondence, but I want you to know that I have deleted it and won’t say anything about it.”

Whatever you do, don’t even inadvertently encourage the kind of rudeness that is the hallmark of unnecessary CCs or BCs.

The bottom line: There is a time for putting your concerns or frustrations in writing. Not all unpleasant mail is inappropriate. However, when you intend to correct someone or negatively critique their performance or behavior, think, think and think again before copying others. There may be rare times when it is needed, but most often, it is not. You and your reputation and effectiveness will be diminished in proportion to how many people you CC unnecessarily.

August 1st, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 5 comments


  1. Wow, even working for a state agency, I’ve never really seen any emails like this. However, I have had supervisors in the past who have talked with the group specifically about thinking before you send an email, and in some cases, deciding just to pick up the phone (or talk personally) instead. I do think that it’s a good idea to have these kinds of discussions at work. I know that it has definitely helped me to think before sending emails (and also to think about the appropriate people to copy). Another thing to keep in mind for us is whether you want your email to possibly be released in an open record request. This can cause a lot of embarrassment.

    Comment by Lisa M. | August 1, 2011

  2. I had a supervisor who never missed a chance to humiliate me and others in email or in person. To me, that is bullying because we couldn’t do anything about it except complain, which only made her worse. Finally she got promoted and now she bullies people at a higher level and they complain too but nothing gets done. I don’t understand how that can happen when the rest of us live in fear that we’ll get in trouble for saying the wrong thing. I’m sending this to others in my section so we won’t do it to each other!

    Comment by H.W.E. | August 1, 2011

  3. Tina says: Thanks Lisa and HWE for reading and commenting. Lisa, sometimes people will send me emails or play a phone message for me, and I’ll think it has to be Candid Camera or something, because surely no one would really do that. But, they do. Sadly, they do. Even more sadly, it’s not usually the first time, it’s one in a long series of unpleasantness that everyone is aware of but no one wants to take on and insist upon changes being made.

    I really liked the reminder about open record requests. I have had correspondence subpoenaed several times in the past and recall reading through everything, dreading to find something I would be ashamed about. Thanks again. T.

    Comment by TLR | August 1, 2011

  4. Hello Tina! Another reason to be careful about CC and BC is that a lot of people (like me!)resent getting email they don’t need or an email that involves a conflict they don’t want to be part of!

    In one of your other articles you wrote about explaning in the email why specific people have been CC’d. I have used that idea many times and think it’s a good one.

    Keep enjoying your summer! P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | August 2, 2011

  5. Excellent information! I’m sharing it with my team because we occasionally have something happen where there are some unnecessary “shots” taken at people in copied emails. It’s not a big problem, but shouldn’t happen at all.

    Comment by K.S. | August 11, 2011

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