5

This has come up many times in my career and I've never felt sure what the right procedure is. If someone volunteers to connect me to someone over professional email, how much of the ensuing conversation should that person be copied on? Where that person is not likely interested in the following conversation nor able to contribute anything, do I copy them on the whole thing or is it polite to drop them from the discussion?

The conversation over email might go something like this:

Me (Todd): Hello Bob, can you help me with this thing?
Bob: No, but I know Gary who specializes in that.
Bob (to me and Gary): Hi Gary and Todd, I wanted to put the two of you in contact so you can collaborate on this thing.
Gary (reply-all): Hi Todd, sure, tell me about the issue
Me (reply-all?):
....

At this point Bob is probably ignoring the conversation. I don't want to drag him through it but I also don't want to insult him or make him think I didn't follow up on the conversation.

What is the professional etiquette around dropping Bob from the conversation?

6

This is a great case for using BCC (blind carbon copy).

This article quotes a business school professor explaining its use:

“Moving you to BCC,” Argenti told me, is essentially a shorthand for saying, “I know you really don’t want to hear this, but I do want you to know that we’ve gotten in touch, and thank you very much.” Bim, bam, blessedly silent boom—politeness all around. It’s so elegant. It’s so merciful. And a similar approach can be used when a conversation that started with many people has narrowed to require input from fewer participants.

So whenever you are sure that the other recipient(s) of an email don't need to be on the list anymore, you can go ahead and move them to BCC. (It sounds like it would have been appropriate for Gary to do so in his reply to you, but it's easy to forget or overlook.)

This blog post gives an example of how one might use it after being introduced to a new person:

However, you also don't want to remove your colleague from the thread without notice. Then you leave them wondering if you ever followed up or if you got their email introduction at all.

This is the perfect time to move your colleague to BCC, and send an email like:

Re: Neville -- Scott
Hey Neville,

Thanks for the introduction, Brian! (moved to BCC)

Neville, I'm happy to meet you. I'd be happy to move forward with ... [rest of email]

Your colleague knows you responded, which removes any lingering doubt about whether you followed up. You've also saved them from an email chain they don't need to be included on moving forward.

Sometimes people recommend against using BCC because it can seem "sneaky" (as explained here), which is why it's important to explicitly state who is on BCC.

Another example: My team at work has an email alias for users who are beta testing our software. So very frequently someone will report a problem to the list, and the engineer or PM responsible for the feature replies with something like:

(discussion-list to bcc) Thanks for reporting, Bob! Can you send me the log file?

This lets everyone know that the problem is being handled appropriately, and keeps the list from getting looped back in later if someone accidentally hits reply-all.

So in your case, instead of hitting reply-all, reply just to Gary, but BCC Bob and mention that in the first line. Then you can continue the conversation with Gary without filling Bob's inbox.

4

Personally, I only keep the person in the loop if it's helpful to them to have that information. So it really depends on the situation. In your example, if I ask someone for help because I think they have the answer, and they respond with "Actually, that's Gary's domain", I would stop including Bob. It's not in his work scope, so I doubt he's interested.

But if for example I have an issue and go to my team lead with a question about the feature we're implementing, and they include someone else in that conversation, I keep them in the e-mail chain because it might be helpful for them to be aware how things are going. They have the conversation thread, they don't have to wonder if things are getting resolved or not. And I don't have to take the time to keep them in the loop is something else is going on.

In doubt, I don't remove people. Hopefully you guys are using an e-mail tool where all messages of a thread are grouped together, so that e-mail threads aren't spamming your inbox.

1

What I usually do is send one reply-all email along the lines of, "Thanks Bob. Me and Gary will take it from here" and then send a separate email to only Gary about the issue in question.

This accomplishes the goals of

  • Reaching out to Gary
  • Letting Bob know I'm following up
  • Unambiguously cutting Bob out of the rest of the conversation

The only downside is that it results in two emails to Gary, but I don't think that's a huge issue.

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