How I Add And Remove Users From An Email Thread

An interesting question I saw on LinkedIn recently:

Question: I need to bring some conversation to my manager’s attention.

Scenarios:

  • I add him in the CC.
  • I forward the email after I sent a reply to the group.
  • I attached the email in point and send it to him.

In other words, in what conditions should I be using the above scenarios?

Great topic, and one to which we can all relate.

Fortunately, at 10th Magnitude a significant amount of our business is conducted via email, so I’ve been exposed to some great practices around adding and removing people to email threads. They’ve helped me develop the strategies I’m about to describe.

Guiding Principles: Transparency, Minimal Disruption

Adding and removing people to emails should be transparent to everyone on the thread. That’s true of co-workers, managers, third parties … don’t blindside people.

And we should announce our intentions. If you’re adding or dropping someone from a thread, say why. And do it immediately.

Need to talk internal strategy about a project? Absolutely, remove the customer from the thread — but let people know you did it. Need your supervisor to weigh in on something? Make sure you note that the boss is now on this thread.

Of course, there are rare occasions when you need to bring in someone without surfacing that to others on the thread. If you often need to BCC or forward emails, you’re in a situation or a culture that’s toxic. Don’t perpetuate that sickness by playing along. Help improve the system, or move to a place with a better culture if it can’t be helped.

I find that most people who are new to a thread need the bottom line up front to help them get up to speed. So as a rule, if I add someone to a thread, I call that person out specifically in the reply. I’ll usually give them an action item; otherwise, I’ll give a sentence about why I’m adding them.

And I find that most people who are being dropped from a thread like to know that, too. It lets them know that whatever you were talking about didn’t just evaporate; instead, you’re not clogging up their inboxes with irrelevancies.

Example: Dropping Someone From The Thread

When I drop someone from an email thread, I usually just say whom I am dropping, and why. I always do it at the top of the thread.

And I will usually do it by moving the person I am dropping to BCC, so they know I am dropping them from the thread.

Subject: RE: Overtime Staffing
From: Doug Vanderweide
To: Bob Smith, Earl Jones
BCC: Jane Doe

(Removing Jane Doe, who has no action items on this thread)

I agree that seniority should dictate who gets "first choice" for overtime ...

The exception to the BCC rule is when I am excluding a customer from an internal discussion about the customer. I still surface to everyone else in the thread that the customer isn’t present, but I don’t tell the customer they are being dropped.

That’s because the side, internal conversation tends to be a branch, and it will usually come back around to the client. For example, my internal team needs to work out staffing for a project, I’ll remove the customer from the internal conversation.

Once we know what we’re going to do, I bring it back to the customer — usually by replying to the last message they were on in the original thread.

Subject: RE: Overtime Staffing
From: Doug Vanderweide
To: Bob Smith, Earl Jones
BCC: Jane Doe

(Removing the customer)

We're going to have to allocate some overtime on this project to meet the deadline ...

Example: Adding Someone To The Thread

When I want to add someone to an email thread, I note it at the top of my reply, and call out an action item for that person.

Outlook 2016 has a really neat @mention feature, that not only highlights to a recipient what they should do, but also calls out the mention within the inbox view.

Microsoft Outlook 2016 mentions make it easy for people to identify their action items in emails.

So, an email to which I am adding someone would look like this:

Subject: RE: Overtime Staffing
From: Doug Vanderweide
To: Bob Smith, Earl Jones, Jane Doe

(Adding Jane Doe, who has oversight of budget for this customer)

@Jane Doe, do we have sufficient dollars in this budget for about 200 hours of engineering overtime?

I agree that seniority should dictate who gets "first choice" for overtime ...

Example: Taking A Thread “Offline”

In those rare cases when I need someone to see a thread, but not be part of a thread, I will forward the message, almost always with a mention calling out what I need to surface or have that person do.

Subject: Fwd: RE: Overtime Staffing
From: Doug Vanderweide
To: Jack Smith 

@Jack Smith, you asked me to flag you on any projects being managed by Earl Jones that require overtime. This one will need about 200. FYI.

I agree that seniority should dictate who gets "first choice" for overtime ...

My practice is to take things offline only when there’s no diplomatic means to raise an issue to a supervisor, or whatever I am discussing is so sensitive that to mention it to some people would be a troll.

Trust your co-workers, be honest and polite in your feedback, and you will seldom need to take email threads “offline” to a supervisor or the like.

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