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Who Should You To: or Cc: in Business Email?

Business Email To and Cc field proper use.

Have you ever wondered when to use the To: field versus the Cc: field in you business email communications? As with most things email etiquette your discretion comes into play. I know — I use that “d” word a lot.

As a general guideline, you want to use the To: field when you want to address several contacts, for the same reason, as a group. When a name is included in the To: field that indicates you are part of the discussion and your input is being solicited.

When to Use the Cc: Field vs. the To: Field

The Cc: field is generally used to keep others informed. When a name is noted in the Cc: field they are primarily being kept in the loop (FYI). There is no expectation of a reply being required.

When you find your name in the Cc: field, know that your input is welcomed. If you have something important to add to the conversation that needs to be pointed out, do so.

However, in that case reply only to the sender and do NOT hit Reply to All. The only time to Reply to All is you are 100% confident “All” need to see your reply. If you are unsure, only reply to the sender.

Cc: After the Fact?

One concern stressed by those who email me is the unfortunate situation of having an email conversation with one party who then takes the liberty to Cc: others on their reply. Or mid-way through the conversation.

For example two managers discussing their respective team’s responsibilities. One of the managers then, without notice, adds in the Cc: field various staff members after several back and forths.

Maybe the other manager wanted to keep the conversation between the two originally in the conversation. At least until details were finalized. This approach possibly exposes their position on the situation prematurely.

Certainly not a great way to build working relationships if one manager preempts the other. This can be perceived as a breach of confidentiality or undermining the other manager’s authority.

Think First = Discretion

Cc: must be used with discretion. Only Cc: those who really “need” to be in the loop on your ongoing communications. Only include those that are involved or impacted directly.

Especially when when mixing internal and outside company contacts. Avoid exposing your employer’s business practices and methodologies. Those need to be protected and not exposed.

Doing so in the guise of customer service (or worse yet your attempt to CYA) can have a negative impact. On your company and your career.

If you are unsure who should be Cc:’d run it by your manager or supervisor first. Not clear about what should be shared, ask.

Privacy and Confidentiality

To arbitrarily bring others into a private conversation when the person on the other side may not agree with that choice can cause misunderstandings. Not to mention lead them to not trust that they can in fact have candid communications with you.

If you feel the other party has an expectation that what you are discussing is between the two of you, honor that. It is the sign of a true professional to know intuitively when that is the case.

One thing is clear — you should never play politics with Cc:. Doing so is never a successful strategy and can lend to the perception that you are trivial and/or unprofessional.

The bottom line?

  • Use the To: field for those who you desire to have a conversation with and want to encourage input.
  • The Cc: field is best used in new conversations and is used to FYI without an expectation of a reply or additional input.

Discuss the topic at hand first with those already involved. Then, if you want to inform others about the outcome of that conversation start a new email that includes parties you want to bring into the conversation.

By keeping these tips in mind you’ll be known as a courteous and efficient communicator. More importantly someone others can bank on to use their discretion when required.

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