From “hero” to “traitor” in one e-mail

The practice of e-mail blind copying hails a professional’s credibility to the abyss of mistrust in very little time and with no easy way of climbing back

Adil Sharma is a team leader in an international outsourcing company. While Adil is recognised across the organisation as a professional with credible technical knowledge and an amiable temperament, his colleagues and direct reports exercise a great deal of caution while interacting with him.  Despite his soft-spoken personality and cordial disposition, many in his team do not consider Adil as a trustworthy colleague.  While Adil puts a great deal of effort to interact and spend time with his colleagues and direct reports, he is often picked up as the subject of ridicule and lunch-hour gossip.

While Adil is aware of this fact, he is clueless about what has led him to a position where he no longer enjoys the trust of his colleagues. A closer look at Adil’s working style reveals a striking fact about his official communication preferences. Adil is in the habit of blind copying (Bcc) an individual’s manager in his e-mail interactions. While Adil considers Bcc-ing an individual’s manager as a way of keeping him/her informed about events and developments, his colleagues and direct reports consider it as a breach of trust. While meant as a mechanism to hide the identity of people copied on a particular message, there were instances in the past, where the individual’s manager inadvertently hit a “Reply All” while responding to Adil. On other occasions, Adil’s act of Bcc-ing was revealed over casual discussions between an individual and his/her trusted manager. Both situations have left Adil red-faced on many occasions.

Roee Adler, Chief Product Officer, at the IT solutions company, Soluto, shares an experience with a boss in his previous professional stint in an article. “One of the first things my boss advised me against,” reveals Adler “was to Bcc someone in all forms of e-mail communications— professional or personal.” Adler continues that his boss reasoned his advice with the following words, “When someone sends you an e-mail where you are Bcc-ed, your brain tags that person as someone who Bcc-s people in e-mails. So next time he sends you an email where you’re NOT Bcc-ed, your brain will wonder whether he Bcc-ed anyone on this email that he doesn’t want you to know about. As a consequence, your brain will automatically tag this person as someone who may have something to hide, and you’ll develop a concern for the level of honesty and transparency of that person. With time, you may grow not to trust him.” Adler reveals that he has not Bcc-ed anyone ever since.

The career advisory and training company, Onlinecareertips.com, published an article arguing why Bcc-ing is never a good idea. The article reveals that while a professional may use the Bcc function to trap a colleague or service provider, one may often overlook the risk of the Bcc-ed recipient reaching out to the colleague or service provider individually. On such occasions, the professional loses credibility and such setbacks are difficult to bounce back from as they are tied by perceptions.

Experts, however, believe that there are two situations where an individual can Bcc recipients without losing credibility.

Interactions with direct and indirect stakeholders:  There are instances when both internal and external stakeholders of a project with rigid communication channel protocols may need to be provided with developments and updates. It is acceptable to Bcc all such stakeholders of the project to maintain confidentiality of personal details.

Mass mailing: Communication experts reveal that a person tends to ignore or postpone reading e-mails that are not personalised. A recipient of an e-mail considers an e-mail as non-personalised if s/he receives an e-mail that explicitly displays a large recipient list. While there are no gold-standards available, communication experts believe that if the number of recipients exceed 30, it may be a good idea to include the recipients in the Bcc field, rather than the “To” field.

While the instances are limited, the practice of Bcc-ing is more widespread in the modern-day professional world than meets the eye.  The practice leads colleagues to lose faith in an individual and creates an environment of mistrust. As many believe, Bcc-ing is a sure-fire way of falling from the ladder of trust to an abyss of mistrust in no time.

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