A few recent email messages that came to my inbox made me think that we could all use some reminders to help us avoid simple (but potentially embarrassing) mistakes.

Pause for a moment before sharing the email addresses of friends. Every few weeks I get an email from someone with seemingly their entire contact list To: line that would have been more appropriately sent by using BCC. Before you send out such an email, think for a moment and decide “Does everyone you are sending to want everyone else in the thread to know their email addresses?” For example, when I email the volunteers I work with in my sons’ elementary school I put everyone on the To line. Someone may need to get a sub and we distribute and email list to the volunteers anyway, so that data isn’t secret. On the other hand, if you are emailing most of your address book to say “Hey, we’re having a house party this weekend!” or “Who wants to buy Girl Scout cookies?” I’d suggest using BCC. Some people you email to may feel a bit odd about having their email address given out to total strangers. Using the BCC line also avoids issues with people using Reply All (to say “Yes, we’ll come”) when they should use Reply.

In particularly sensitive emails, double check your recipients. A parent on my son’s swimming team accidentally hit Reply All on a message from the swim coach to a large number of people and sent a very critical message which everyone saw rather than just his intended recipient. Whether or not such criticism is warranted sharing such an email outside of the people it was intended to was pretty embarrassing and leads to all sorts of trouble. When you are sending particularly critical or sensitive email, it pays to double check the recipients list before the email goes out. Also be careful when adding a person to an existing conversation. I have had several emails forwarded to me where the initial conversation changed but the initial discussion was left on and I saw items that were not intended for me to see.

Don’t use 'Reply All' when 'Reply' will do just as well. On a couple of emails this past month, it’s been unclear why I’ve been on the email list. The worst thing you can do in such a case is Reply All and ask “Hey, why am I getting these emails?” because the other receivers probably know just as much as you. But, of course, in each instance, at least one person managed to do that. If you really are curious (and don’t immediately chalk it up to an error on the sender’s part) just Reply to the sender directly and ask them. They’re the only ones who really know why you were included on the email (if you’re really not careful, you can recreate “Bedlam”)

Hopefully these simple suggestions will help you avoid email embarrassment.

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