How To Handle The Dreaded ‘reply All Moment’
When one hapless fellow invited family and friends to come watch him in a glassblowing demonstration, a bad cut-and-paste omitted the word “glass.” The result, wrote his wife, was “a shocking offer.”
Her solution: She made him resend a corrected version of the same message four times. Her hope was that the flood of identical emails would minimize the amount of attention attracted by the first one.
It worked. “Happily, we never had any responses to the initial rude offering,” she said.
Some people resort to deception. Janet Katz told people she was the victim of a computer virus. “I blame a small child — son, niece, nephew, whatever,” Roanne Martin said.
Sharyn Tom pointed out that you don’t have to defuse the fallout alone. “Enlist someone you have good rapport with to Reply All to your Reply All, and say something funny to cut the tension, like, ‘Great story, bro, we appreciate the update!’” she suggests. “The other person helps by taking the focus and embarrassment away from you, and pivots into humor or something useful.”
In general, though, the wisest course seems to be quick action and a huge helping of humble pie.
“I just call it what it is by sending yet another Reply All message like: ‘Well, that was awkward,’” Sheryl Moore wrote. “Usually that is met with kind and understanding replies.”
Or, as Cassandra Kiger put it, “You own it, make apologies, spend 48 hours in shame, and move on.”
Five ways to avoid Reply All nightmares
Most people endure a botched Reply All episode only once. After that searing experience, you’re unlikely to make the same mistake again.
But you can avoid the fiasco in the first place. Here’s how:
Enter the address last. Jeff Branzburg has cultivated the habit of clicking Forward, not Reply, when answering messages. That way, the Address box of every reply starts out empty. “Compose the email, and only then go back and enter the address(es),” he says. This technique requires extra steps, but it guarantees you’ll never accidentally Reply to All.
Give yourself an “Oh no!” window. In some email programs, you can set up a freakout delay. Your email will wait 60 seconds (or more) after you click Send, giving you a window in which to realize your gaffe and stop the message in its tracks.
You can set this up in Microsoft Outlook or in Gmail. If you’re a Mac person, you need the free version of a plug-in called Mail Butler to add this feature to Apple’s Mail program.
“The ‘oh no filter’ gives you enough time to correct errors,” Gerard Stijntjes notes. “I’ve shared it around at work and it is helping.”
If Microsoft Outlook dominates your email life, as it does in many organizations, you have three additional safety nets at your disposal:
Remove the Reply All button on your end. The Reply All button can’t ruin your life if it doesn’t exist, can it? In Outlook, you can move the button to a remote Siberian outpost on the toolbar so it’s harder to hit by mistake. (Here’s how to do it.)
The beauty of this toolbar surgery is that it doesn’t fully deprive you of the Reply to All function. When you really intend to trigger it, you can always choose the equivalent menu command. “Problem solved, as far as I’m concerned,” Andreas Molke noted.