Cc: Why copying in executives might result in the wrong sort of attention

Alex Singleton
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Far from being an instrument of influence, cc-ed emails are a repellent that stop people wanting to engage with you. (Source: Getty)
he abuse of email raises the blood pressure in offices every day.

Workers are bombarded by often quite junior managers in other departments with demanding emails. They take many forms but the contents generally mean: “you must agree to do lots of work for me”. To make their request more convincing, they cc- in lots of senior people. That way you look bad if you say no​ or don’t reply.

Over the years I have learned the art of batting these away. A former boss of mine said that I enjoyed splatting such idiocy in email, and like all good bosses didn’t want me to be diverted onto pointless projects. His approach, by the way, was to reply to senders and ask: “is there a reason you’re cc-ing the chief executive into this email?”. This did a pretty good job of making his point.


My approach to dealing with cc-ed emails is to hit reply all and send a very gentle message, starting with: “Thank you for your email”. Then it’s time to write a paragraph savaging their request in the most civilised possible way, before helpfully pointing out a mistake in their message (well, maybe not the last bit). ​The key here is to sound extremely reasonable, pointing out the commercial priorities and key performance indicators that you are working to. To close, I find that adding “I am, Sir, your obedient servant” comes across as a little insincere.
“With very best wishes” is fine.

Avoid the noise

It turns out that most of the people being copied in dislike being included in the original emails anyway​. It’s easy as a senior manager to receive 300 emails a day, and the last thing you want is to be copied into disagreements about workloads from across the business. After all, the key to successful management is not being diverted by all the noise – and focusing instead on the commercially important.

Apart from Sir Martin Sorrell, who seems to reply to every email in a matter of minutes from his iPad, most people in senior management have long since given up on thinking replying to every email is feasible or even desirable. Bizarrely, I do still reply to most emails, if only to stop the deluge of marketing agencies trying to sell me consultancy on “brand essence” from following up on the phone.

Fun to send

Anyway, if excessively cc-ed emails annoy everyone who receives them, why are they so prevalent? The answer is that they are deliciously fun to send. There’s that sense of fulfilment because you know the email won’t be ignored and you get to stand up for something that’s important.

It gives an ideal opportunity to get your point across forcefully, even if you do come across as a person in the street shouting about God with a cardboard sign.

Buyer’s remorse

Maybe I’m too much of a pussycat, but I find that the satisfaction of sending such emails quickly turns into remorse. I worry that I might have tarnished a relationship. Am I being too soft?

Well, Tom Peters, the management guru, says that the idea that civility in the workplace is soft is plain wrong. In fact, he argues civility is the “number one long-term money-maker” because happy company insiders deliver better results, and because kindness to people you work with breeds a culture of kindness to outsiders. Besides, one of the curious things about most companies is that, your immediate boss aside, you frequently choose who you work with closely and which projects you prioritise.

Far from being an instrument of influence, cc-ed emails are a repellent that stop people wanting to engage with you.

Alex Singleton is a communications expert and author of The PR Masterclass (Wiley).

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