Etiquette at Work

‘Reply all’ and ‘Forward’: Use with care

When e-mail etiquette comes up in our seminars, people jump to mention several abuses. One topic sure to elicit groans of frustration is the misuse of “reply all.”

The most annoying misuse of reply all is when people use it to respond to an invitation instead of just using the reply button. I can’t think of a good reason why all the other people invited should know you are attending the meeting. Frankly, not only do they not want to know if you are accepting or declining, they also don’t need their in-boxes gummed up with completely unnecessary e-mails. E-mail boxes already have too much drivel in them.

Another annoying behavior similar to reply all is forwarding jokes. Too often, I have received jokes sent to me that also include a stream of e-mails below the message. In each e-mail are all the addresses of the people who have received the joke. I’m not so sure I really want my e-mail address put out there. I can’t but wonder how that may expose me to spammers.


Speaking of jokes, be wary of passing them on. A federal judge made the mistake of forwarding an inappropriate joke he received to a few friends — from his work computer no less. Big mistake. Not only did he forward the joke, he commented that he thought the joke was “a bit touching.”

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The joke and his comment were forwarded numerous times until they hit a reporter’s in-box at the Great Falls Tribune in Montana. The reporter scrolled through the e-mail thread and found the judge’s comment. The resulting story caused an uproar. End result? The judge is retiring as of May 3.

One final comment about jokes especially at work: Your work computer and all its contents are subject to scrutiny by your employer. Be careful what you do with the jokes you receive, especially inappropriate ones. You may not be able to prevent a friend from sending you something inappropriate, but you do have control over what you do with it. Avoid the urge to read it, save it, forward it, or show it to others. Mark it as spam and delete it. Then send a note to the sender asking him to take you off his joke list.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to