Email Etiquette: Thou Shalt Not CC Everybody

In Commentary, Opinion by Nadim Lalani2 Comments

I was reflecting on a recent conversation with my sister-in-law about someone who sent a farewell email to her entire company. We debated the appropriateness of this, and email etiquette in general. It made me think of stupid things that I have done with email. I thought that I’d share.

Ever hit “reply all” by accident and sent a message disparaging someone?

√ CHECK – This goes down as one of the most unprofessional and regretful things I have done. The back-peddling and crow-eating didn’t compare to the damage this did to my reputation. For more on branding yourself appropriately click on this link.

Ever tried to be funny/sarcastic using email and have your words received the wrong way?

√ CHECK – I once sent an email to my medical classmates haranguing them for RSVPing to an event and bailing, leaving lots of wasted food. No biggie – the food went to the ER nurses lounge. In my email I was trying to be witty and sarcastic, but nevertheless the outcome was disastrous! Unlike words spoken, no one can see your smile or your expressions behind the words in an email. Sure emoticons exist but they just don’t cut it.

Ever sent an angry email that you wish you could have clawed back?

√ CHECK – We’ve all had those work issues that make us want to LOSE IT! For sure, getting riled up shows your passion, but it also makes you look emotionally unstable.

Before you blast off online, try these three simple rules:

  1.  Hit “Save”.    Sleep on it and come back to it later.
  2. Before hitting “Send” run the emails by your spouse/a friend/colleague.
  3. Consider NOT sending a reply at all. Ask yourself, “Does this accomplish anything other than allowing me to vent?” If not, don’t send it.
There’s one oldie-but-goodie principle that should guide all your online interactions and email etiquette:
If you’ve got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.

-Everybody’s Grandma

Those that know me often hear me joke that the online version of me is a better person than the real-life me! What I mean is I try to never flame or blame online. My guiding thought is “Don’t put anything negative out there” – this way you ensure that you’re always saying the right thing. You never know what might come back to haunt you in one, five, or ten years.

One last email etiquette mistake I still find myself doing is:

Ever tried to resolve an issue using back and forth emails or texts like ten times?


Much more efficient.

This post was originally published on the ERMentor blog on October 31st, 2012. It was copyedited by David Sheps (@davidsheps) and reviewed by Michael Bravo (@bravbro) prior to republication on CanadiEM in July of 2016.

Nadim is an emergency physician at the South Health Campus in Calgary, Alberta. He is passionate about online learning and recently made a transition into human performance coaching. He is currently working on introducing the coaching model into medical education.