The secret of BCC

I am dedicating this blog to a dear colleague of mine that recently left the company for her next exciting challenge. She has asked me how to put herself automatically as BCC on her sent emails. So I have decided to write a post on BCC and its usage.

Secret

 

What is BCC?

BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy.  Its famous “brothers” are the To and CC options. When you put a person on the BCC list, that person receives the email, but that person doesn’t appear on the distribution list. This means that people that receive the email are unaware that the a 3rd person has received the email as well. There are various usages for the BCC, as we will see in a minute.

BCC

BCC for snitching

You want to send an email to someone but to keep a 3rd person informed on that email without the knowledge of the distribution list. For some reason, most of people are using that option in a negative scenario. For example, reprimanding someone while secretly informing his boss.

This is a very risky usage to apply. Why? Because people reply on emails without always checking whether they appear on the To, CC or BCC lists – they just reply if they feel like (I’ll write a few posts on how to write and reply on emails later on). A BCC person that would reply on such an email would probably damage your work relationship on the spot. Once the BCC person has replied, the people on the original distribution list would understand that this email was secretly informed to a 3rd person. As we already said, secretly mostly used on the negative side.

I find this BCC usage the worst one and I never use it. I strongly recommend you not to use the BCC option in that context.

BCC for phasing out

Suppose there is a wide distribution email thread, and at some point the discussion has narrowed down to a specific item that is not the interest of the entire distribution list. One option is to start another email thread for that discussion (BTW – changing the title of the current email thread and reply on it is just like a new email thread).

Another option is removing the non-relevant people from the thread, by putting them on BCC, and continuing the discussion with the relevant distribution list. OK, so why not just remove the people from the distribution list and that’s it? Well, because the removed-people would not know that they have been removed. What is wrong with that? Well, those people would assume the email thread was just neglected and would probably reply on the email thread trying to pick it up again.

Let take a trivial example that I have witnessed a lot. There is a support-distribution-list for a certain product. A problem appears, and the person experiencing the problem reports on it (via email) to the support-distribution-list. Someone from the distribution list understands that the problem resides on a specific module of the product and therefore reply-all and adjusts the distribution list to a component-distribution-list (a subset of the original list).

At this point, most of the people on the original support-distribution-list aren’t aware that someone has picked up the email thread and started to handle the problem. In such case, usually one of 2 things happens:

  • Someone from the original-distribution-list reply-all on the email asking “has someone picked it up?” as it seems like no one really handled the problem.
  • Another team is wasting time trying to troubleshoot the problem although the problem was already identified on another module. A waste of energy.

Now we know why removing people from an email thread without their knowledge cause more damage than help. It is more polite and informative to move people to BCC while stating that explicitly – e.g. “moving all to BCC except for..”, “moving John to BCC as we focus on..”, etc.

This makes sure that the removed-people are aware of that and in case they really want to be part of the discussion, they can still reply and request to be included.

One word of caution before I end this section – there are certain cultures that find BCC offensive in some cases. I find BCC very useful in this scenario, but people’s feelings come first. So be aware of that point when you try the BCC for the first time in your organization.

Self-BCC for follow up

This is the section my ex-colleague was asking for. Self-BCC means that on every email I’m sending, I’m putting myself as BCC, so I would receive the email in my Inbox.

Why do we need to receive emails that we send? I have hard time answering that since it is tightly coupled with the time-management methodology I mentor people for… but I’ll do my best.

There are certain times we want/need to follow up on emails that we have sent. For the follow up purposes, we can mark them with flags and categories for picking them up later on. In order to find such email, we need to go to the “Sent Items” and look for it. If it happens to us a lot, we might find it more convenient having those emails in our mailbox.

Another reason for self-BCC is keeping complete email threads in case we need to approach the email thread in the future. Complete means including the emails that we have sent.

I treat the “Sent Items” like the “Deleted Items”, meaning I delete those from time to time (once a month?). Other people like to move complete threads to a certain physical folder and look for them there later on. Having part of the email thread in the “Sent Items” folder, makes this job hard. Having complete email threads is done easily using the self-BCC.

How to do it? Using rules:

  • Go to Home tab
  • Go to Move section
  • Select Rules
  • Select “Manage Rules & Alerts

ManageRule

  • Create a new rule according to the below criteria (just replace “Morabia Erez” with your name…)

SelfBCC_Rule

Have fun!

 

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Erez Morabia

I’m an engineer and a leader in the computer software industry which is passionate about leading teams, embracing new technologies and improving soft skills for work efficiency.

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