To Cc or Not to Cc? That Is the Question

Do you know when to copy people on the emails you send? Or do you cc a bunch of people and hope to offend no one? This post will reduce your cc doubts.  

Should you cc or not? To answer that question, 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. Only include people on the Cc line who need to be in the know.

But wait—there’s more to think about. Before you include your supervisor and your team members—who may want to be in the information loop—recognize that ccing them on the email is likely to cause anyone who replies to your email to cc them too. Do your supervisor and team members need all those emails? If not, don’t tie them into the email conversation.

Below are frequently asked questions, with suggestions.

Question 1: If I don’t cc my supervisor or team members, how can I keep them informed?
Answer: Think about how much information those people need. Let’s say your email thread will cover bugs in a new software release. If your supervisor does not need all the back-and-forth emailing, just send him a summary email or periodic updates. The same goes for your team members: If they will want the hundred emails that may attach to this thread, cc them. Otherwise, just choose to update them as needed.

Question 2: If I receive an email on which people are copied, should I reply to all?
Answer: If you know the other people and you understand why they are included, do cc them, of course. But if you do not know the people or the reason they are included, feel free not to cc them (unless your organization’s email protocol is different). 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.” The writer should also explain why people are on the Cc line or are being added to it. For example, “I am ccing Bill Davis because he has joined the group. Please copy him on your reply.”

Question 3: If I want my director to know that I have handled a situation, shouldn’t I copy her on my email? But then how do I stop others from replying to her too?
Answer: Include your director on the Bcc line, and others will not be able to reply to her. If you are concerned that she (receiving a bcc) may mistakenly reply to all and wrap herself into the conversation, simply forward your email to her with a one-sentence explanation.

Question 4: If I cannot get action from someone, should I cc our managers to show that I am ready to take the issue to the next level?
Answer: Ccing your managers IS taking the issue to the next level. Rather than taking that step, which may feel like blame or pressure to the other person, ask for information first: What is causing the delay? When can you expect action? How can you help the other person take action? Eventually you may need to let the individual know that your next step could be to turn to your bosses. However, emphasize that you would prefer to resolve the situation together.

Question 5: My boss wants to be copied on every email I send to clients. Is this a standard practice? It seems awkward.
Answer: 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.

Ask your boss whether sending him client updates will meet his needs. Another option is to forward any important emails to him, so he will be aware of what is going on.

Question 6: Are there obvious circumstances when I should NOT cc?
Answer: Remember this essential rule: Only cc people when they must have or should have the information. Routine emails that should not typically include ccs are thank-yous, straightforward yes or no answers (unless everyone must know your answer), brief compliments, and “I don’t know” replies. Also, do not copy people on constructive feedback, denials, or reminders—messages that could embarrass the individual whose name appears on the To line.

Question 7: I am buried in copies of emails I do not need. How can I encourage people to copy me less often without making them think I don’t care what they are working on?
Answer: If the emails are from people in your work group, why not have a group meeting to discuss your email standards? Together you may be able to identify great ways to be more efficient about ccs.

With people outside your work group, check to see whether you can remove yourself from email lists you don’t need to be on. For example, maybe you are receiving copies of all the safety incidents, when safety is not your current job focus. Or maybe you are included in duplicate lists. Beyond that, you might send an email in which you reply to all this way: “Thanks for including me. At this point, I do not need to be involved in the ongoing discussion. Can you please remove me from the cc list but inform me of the group’s decision?” If you are dealing with one person, write, “I don’t need to be copied on these routine communications. But if you feel I need to know about a specific situation, do cc me.”

To cc or not to cc? What are your questions and suggestions?

Learn guidelines for bccs in the blog post "Bcc: Use With Caution." 

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

27 COMMENTS

  1. When you cc someone on his/ her off days by mistake along with other people for some information that either of the cc’d person is responsible for is that incorrect?
    What should you do if that person writes back to you warning you not to repeat it without ccing to other peole in loop?

  2. Sumita, interesting! The first point to remember is that a cc is to keep someone in the loop. It’s not for the person to do anything; it’s for him or her to be informed. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with ccing a person on his or her day off. That individual decides when to read the email.

    I’m not sure I understand your second question. Who is not ccing–you or the other person?

    Email can be fraught with misunderstandings. Review the points I made in the blog post above, and stay positive.

    Lynn

  3. Lynn,
    This was a very insightful blog. I came to find clearer direction for my team, and walked away with seeing areas of improvement for myself.

    I have two millennials in on my team. We communicate differently. I have been working to educate myself on their communication style and adapt.

    One point of contention is with keeping me on the loop. I am out of the office often and find that “ccing” me on correspondence is the easiest way to keep me up to speed. We also have one weekly meeting. I have been unsuccessful in getting them to comply.

    Do you have any suggestions? Either to coach them in the right direction or modify how I am able to get the information from them.

    Rusty

  4. Hi Rusty,

    Interesting question. You didn’t mention whether you have asked the millennials to cc you on all correspondence, but your description suggests that. You also didn’t mention whether everyone on the team has to cc you on correspondence.

    I don’t know whether you are part of a family or have a partner, but imagine this scenario: You travel a lot for business, and you ask your partner to email you about every interaction that takes place with the children while you are gone. Without that information, you would feel out of the loop.

    In that scenario, can you imagine how burdensome and silly it would seem to your partner to have to loop you in to everything that happens? Your partner would wonder “Why can’t I just update you when you come home at the end of the week? You know I will contact you about anything really significant.”

    Yes, the scenario differs from your situation in that your team members are emailing anyway, but there’s still something to consider there.

    I suggest that you free yourself from needing to be in the loop. Instead, develop your team members so they can function without you, letting you know only about unusual and significant situations that require your involvement or knowledge. Set some guidelines about what is unusual and significant in case there might be confusion about that.

    What do you think, Rusty? Are you willing to give it a try?

    Beyond that, if the millennials are not able to follow your direction, give them feedback on that deficiency. If they are not communicating appropriately, let them know and include that feedback in their performance appraisals.

    Lynn

  5. Hello Lynn,

    I am an design engineer working for international projects in a small consulting firm. My problem is that whenever my boss receives a workload, he forwards it to me without notifying (CC) our clients, and whenever he sends the output back to clients, he almost always speaks in singular first person (“I”, “me”) despite the fact that it is really me who did about 100% of the job. Is that normal and ok?

    LM

  6. Hello LM,

    That sounds like a frustrating situation. You’re not getting acknowledgment for your work, at least from clients. But what’s normal and okay varies from place to place.

    I suggest you talk with your boss about this. If appropriate, tell him that you would like to build relationships with clients–for your own professional development and growth within the firm and for a cohesive approach to client projects. Being recognized as the design engineer on projects would help build those relationships.

    Whatever the outcome of the conversation, be sure to keep your own notes of the projects you are completing, and add projects to your resume when you update it.

    I’d love to know what happens.

    Lynn

  7. Hi Lynn,

    My principal copied me an email that he wrote to a high profile client and added a PS stating that he would like to introduce the two of us.

    How do I respond and do I copy the client?

    Thanks,

    Rudoc

  8. Hi Rudoc,

    The easiest and safest step is to ask your principal how he would like you to respond. Ask him in person, by phone, or in email. In email, do not copy the client; this is a private communication.

    If, in fact, your principal was introducing you in the email, as in “I would like to introduce you to Rudoc, who is copied on this email. He is . . . ” you can consider yourself introduced. You would then write directly to the client, copying your principal so that he knows you have responded to the introduction.

    Good luck!

    Lynn

  9. Hello Lynn,
    could you please clarify one thing regarding CC salutation for me?

    Should I salute CC persons together with the TO persons?
    If yes, which form would be the most appropriate?

    Thank you in advance.
    Magdalena

  10. Hi Lynn my partner and I are setting up a charity and part of our work includes making approaches to a network of contacts and in some instances high profile people to introduce the charity and ask for help and feedback. Obviously we do not send joint correspondence but agree who will contact whom. When I make an email approach introducing ourselves and our project I always copy my partner in via cc as courtesy so that he is in the loop on the ensuing conversation. My partner does not do this and I have to ask all the time for updates on whether someone has been approached/responded/how interested they were/do we need to do anything/meet/Phone etc. He is not deliberately leaving me out of the loop but as an equal business partner on a new venture I feel it is so helpful to be copied in to gauge the tone of a persons response, have a record of conversation between us as the charity and them generally to just feel informed rather than in the dark unless I specifically ask for each bit of information (have you heard back? What did they say? Etc etc) My partner does not see the need for me to see email correspondence even though it equally concerns me and our venture and people we will be meeting together. It is very frustrating!

  11. Nicky, your partner’s behavior is frustrating and impractical. If you are partners, you both need the information. If he is away for any reason, how will you be able to maintain the charity? Also, the people you approach should know that there are two of you in partnership.

    Lynn

  12. I was dealing with a client and knew I would be away for a couple of days and my boss asked if he could handle things between my client while I was away. I of course said yes. On my return my boss filled me in on what happened but at no point did he cc me on the emails he had sent. Should I be offended? Did he do the wrong thing. He says there was nothing I missed but I think its the principle. I would like your opinion on this please.

  13. Hi Fran,

    Your boss made an odd choice, but maybe it was no choice at all–perhaps he didn’t think about it at the time.

    It’s frustrating. Because he didn’t copy you, you do not have a record of the communication. That puts you at a disadvantage in terms of following up with the client. But it’s possible that there really was nothing significant in the emails.

    Don’t be offended. Instead, when you take a vacation next time, ask anyone who is handling your work to copy or Bcc you on email. That way you will feel confident about your client communications.

    Lynn

  14. Dear Lynn,
    Is there any protocol in email messaging that one should not mark copy to the subordinates of the person whom you addressed the mail. I have never found such an instruction so far. I would appreciate your advice.
    regards,
    Sankar

  15. Hello Sankar,

    Generally, you would not copy the employees of someone you are addressing. If you wanted the employees to know about the topic, you would ask the supervisor to forward the message to them.

    However, in different situations, you might develop a different agreement with the supervisor.

    I am sorry for the delay in responding to your comment.

    Lynn

  16. I am a social work supervisor with dual reporting lines to a non social worker and social worker by profession. Often my non social worker manager will email the social workers who reports to me but will cc me in. At times I will respond because I have knowledge of the case but in consultation with the social worker. Do I indicate in the email I have consulted and if it is just a curtousy email am I ethically bind to do anything other than to be informed

  17. Hi

    My boss wrote to the HOD a very nasty email and lies about my performance. Should I counter him or just keep silent as if I have not received the email?

    thanks
    Dev.

  18. Hello Dev,

    You should definitely not keep silent. The lies about your performance are now in writing, and they need to be countered.

    Not knowing how things are structured where you work, I can only guess about the next step. You might request a meeting with your boss and the head of the department (HOD?). At that meeting you might present information in writing to the two individuals. After the meeting you would summarize what happened and be sure your summary is part of the history.

    Good luck!

    Lynn

  19. When a friend recommended you to a job and you get cc’ed on the resume submission should you start a conversation or wait for the employer to initiate conversation?

  20. Generally we would recommend a simple and polite initiation on your end. Best to keep it to just a couple of sentences and let them then take the next step. Best of luck!

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