It has been estimated the average number of emails people receive is typically two to three times what they send.  So if you send 50 emails a day, you probably receive 100 to 150 in your inbox.  In other words, email breeds. And where does this happen? The Cc: (carbon copy) field.

Chances are you Cc: people in an email from time to time. It is also possible that you Cc: half your company in just about every email that you send. There are different reasons for Cc:, some are prudent and effective, others are annoying and time consuming to the recipient.  So the question becomes…When is it appropriate to use the Cc:?

That is a discretionary call that some are unable to properly make, specifically when the “CYA” mentality comes into play.  Cc: should not be used as a way to “CYA” or “FYI” everyone simply because you want to FYI.  Unless they are specifically involved in that particular conversation, event, or issue, and it is important they be informed, DO NOT Cc: them.  Remember that your purpose in including others on the Cc: line is to inform individuals who must or should have the information you are sending. These individuals do not need to DO anything in response to the email. They only need to know about it.

The Cc: always communicates something to the recipient, therefore should be used cautiously and effectively.   It could convey a message of, “I don’t think you and I are going to be able to do this alone,” even if that was not the intent of the Cc:.  There are various messages sent to the recipient, depending on the type of Cc: utilized.  The “responsibility-minimization Cc:” says “by involving someone else, I am making myself less culpable should whatever we’re emailing about go sour.”  The “defensive Cc:” says to the other party: “By involving this particular person, you are not going to easily get away with what you think you’re getting away with.”

Etiquette on sending email concept- complete with topics of a lecture.

Many people often wonder if I receive an email on which people are copied, should I reply to all?  If you know the other people and you understand why they are included, feel free to cc them. But if you do not know the people or the reason they are included, do not cc them in return. The individual who sent the original message can forward your email if necessary. It is not your job to reply blindly to strangers. The person who initiates the email should say either “Please reply to all” or “Please respond to me only.”

What happens when my supervisor wants to be copied on every email I send to clients. Is this a standard practice? No, it is not a standard practice, and the behavior has several disadvantages: It can suggest to clients that you are a junior employee who must be closely supervised; make clients feel they should address him rather than you; rope him into even the smallest, least important exchanges; and encourage him to micromanage your client interactions.

In summary, the Cc: tool has a tendency to send a much more powerful message than the written text.  Here are a few simple rules to remember before loading up the Cc: field with unnecessary recipients:

  • If you CC someone in the middle of an email thread, that person’s identity and presence must be announced.
  • Never copy someone on an email as an oblique threat.
  • Never copy someone on an email as a way of amassing support.
  • Copy people on a“need to know” basis. 
  • The number of people who “need to know” is always overestimated. 
  • Don’t CC your boss on all emails to show him how good you are.
  • Don’t CC too many people in one email.
  • Make sure the CC recipient understands why he/she is receiving a copy.

With the above in mind, also use discretion by NOT hitting “Reply All” if “all” do not need to be involved in the reply.  It is always more effective to remove recipients that are not necessary to, or interested in, the ongoing conversation.  Courtesy is not clogging others inboxes with irrelevant, petty, or CYA emails that do not apply to them.