Stop Using The “CC” As A Weapon

Email, you gotta hate love it.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

My introduction to email occurred about two decades ago when it opened up the possibility of real time communication with the whole world through an innocuous click. It also made serious inroads into my mastery of the fine art of workplace corridor loitering, you know the loitering you do as a junior whatever to wait for that perfect moment to jump into an office to experience some face time with a senior.

Some might say it is now outdated technology, that communication is all about flow and interaction. Email has a tendency to be fragmented and usually less gratifying. Some might also say that the advent of platforms such as Skype and Facebook chat have usurped the need for email. However, it seems that email is here to stay, at least in business.

I’m sure most of us have some humorous workplace email stories to tell. I’m also sure most of us have misunderstood or have been misunderstood through email and have had the experience where a lot of time and angst could have been avoided if we had just picked up this somewhat underutilised device, called the telephone.

For example, at my last workplace there was a row of desks and partitioning separating the offices which were located along  each wall of a long corridor. Sort of like the Berlin Wall, but the offices belonged to people from the same country department. Despite it being a five minute walk around the Wall (there were no gun or passport controls in evidence) and despite telephones being standard issue, my colleague would send me a slew of emails to deal with a simple matter that could have been resolved in a two minute conversation. Clearly this dude was not going to brave the Wall. Maybe he was too concerned about being thought of as a rebel dissident.

As I move through middle age, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about human interaction, relationships, motivation, influence and connectivity. I’m a fairly late study to these matters and so I approach all of them with the enthusiasm that only “mature age students” can muster.

I am particularly interested how humans use the “CC” field in email and how over time it has taken on a life of its own.


Here are couple of observations:

Using CC as a means of CYA

If you have ever played the ancient art of  “telephone-tag” you will know that the  convenience of an email is unsurpassed. You can get your point of view across quickly to a LOT of people at a time of your convenience.

This possibility has led to a rise in what is also an ancient art, the CYA. The CYA, or Cover Your Arse involves copying an  email (through the use of the CC field  – CC, standing for “circulate copy” or “carbon copy”) to twenty other people, the last eighteen of whom are at least five steps removed from the actual subject matter, and couldn’t give a toss about such minutiae. But, rather than back him or herself, the author has purposely set up an “out” if things go pear-shaped “But you knew, you had a copy of the email!”. Here’s a tip: knowing and receiving an email are vastly different things, especially if you have a high traffic in-box. I truly wonder how much these CC’s readers understand the whole matter, even if they do take time to read the email, given they would only have one side of the discussion in real time. Stop with the CC’s already!!

tearing hear out


Using CC as an escalation device – the ultimate weapon

I will admit to this being my pet peeve as I detest passive aggression in any form.

This is an example of highly strategic use of the CC. It involves CCing*  senior managers who are perceived as important. Rather than build relationships with the recipient, the author sees fit to CC* the recipient’s senior managers to make sure they know about what is usually a request of the recipient. This way, the senior manager can ensure that his or her underling is performing the required task.

Is this really necessary? Where are you going to escalate to, when escalation truly becomes necessary – if it in fact does? I’m sure that the Lord’s inbox is a lot fuller than yours and that he has other priorities.

How these people must bask in the light of CC afterglow. The cries of “Ha, I showed you and I didn’t even appear to be as spiteful as I really am” echoing through the cyberworld.

I’m not going to touch upon the BCC (being “blind circulate copy”) field in this post, which takes passive aggression to a whole other level.

In summary, the use of the CC field for anything other than what it was designed for is fraught. The agenda of the author is often clearly obvious from his or her use of the field. It is time folks, that we all stopped using the CC as a weapon and actually used it for the purposes of positive communication. Spare a thought not only for the primary recipient of the email as to how your CC will be perceived but also to all your poor CC recipients, who will either get RSI from hitting the delete key or have to spend hours filing your butt covering tracks away. Time better spent having a non-written conversation with a living, breathing human.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of some CC aggression? Do you have a humorous email use story you wish to share?

* I apologise to all the grammar purists out there for using CC as a verb, but this reflects usual parlance and I treat my blog as a conversation not a literary vehicle
About the curtain raiserhttp://raisingthecurtain.netI have spent my life in offices. For now I am putting that behind me and preparing for the second act. Middle age didn't come with acceptable signposts so I am making my own through my writing. A journey shared is more fun than going it solo.

27 thoughts on “Stop Using The “CC” As A Weapon

  1. “Using CC as an escalation device”—This sounds like brown nosing to me. 😉

    I actually prefer electronic communication, but coming from an introvert, that’s not surprising. That being said, I prefer phone texting for all personal communication and reserving email for more business-related things. My nieces assure me this is how it should be. According to them, email is for ‘old people.’ Guilty as charged, I guess. 🙂

    • Yes, it’s funny how whole relationships amongst Gen Z can be forged and broken off through the use of texts. Email is indeed old hat for these guys. There is a whole lot of debate going on in the marketing world as to whether email is dead and has been totally replaced by social media.

  2. Love “CC as an escalation device” back in the day I was known to use it that way but only if in-person discussions didn’t work or a person seemed to frequently misremember decisions made… As a boss (lord) my staff used the method as protection from upper management when members of other divisions lied… I think some corporate cultures encourage this behavior… The ones I worked at that did have all gone bankrupt.

  3. Great topic! This is very true! I remember:
    – Political fights with (many) spectators on CC (who would cheer and congratulate in separate e-mails with nobody on CC) – better than TV shows.
    – “Manager, I have done this!” e-mails with all the alleged not-so-productive ones on CC.
    – “Good job!” e-mails from managers to one employee with the rest of the world on CC who should be reminded on their not yet achieved goals in a subtle way.
    – People are put on CC because they have once demanded it after they had felt ignored once (“Please keep me in the loop!”), but they do not read these e-mails anyway.
    However, I have read about companies who consider to abandon e-mail for internal corporate use and replace it by something social media like (forgot the names).

    • My last workplace had just started using an internal chat facility amongst its employees. I think that was a way to keep Gen Y engaged. It’s not a bad communication mechanism, given that most office workers spend their days in front of a computer anyway.

  4. At my former workplace we actually discussed this. Everybody agreed that they received too many e-mails and too many CC e-mails. Often, it was a lot easier and quicker simply to talk about things with the colleague who sat just at the next desk 😀

    However, there is also some security in written down things. You know what has been written, but people easily forget what was said. I do much prefer important things in written form, but all the other less important things could be talked about instead. We just need to define what is important and what is not – hence why I think workplaces should have some e-mail guidelines that employees and “lords” (bosses) alike must do their best to follow.

    Another advantage of simply walking up to the recipient of your information instead of hitting the “send”-button, is all the extra exercise you get. Walk to the printer, walk to the coffee machine, walk to the lavatories and walk up to your colleague! 🙂

    • I agree with you on the physical movement point. In my work we also need to record things in writing and email is useful for that. It’s just when the copies multiply unnecessarily that it’s an issue. Altough on the flipside I think email is responsible for the creation of a lot of work related silos.

      Hope you’re doing OK, by the way. We need to catch up 🙂

  5. I rarely use the CC and then I do so to make sure the original was received. You never know with email if it has been received (which is the main problem with email) and by sending a copy to another person you double your chances of getting through!

  6. I find the CC to be useful to let people know they should make a note/be aware of something, but they aren’t the leads on whatever the email is ablut.
    Then if they’re needed, they’re already on the chain, and a “Hey, check out that email thread from…and let me know” is easy.
    When a thread ends up turning into a different topic and I’m still on it kind of sucks though.

  7. I don’t cc. I bcc though. Hm. I feel like I’m in aconfessional here. Your post is spot on. I’ve been out of the workforce for quite some time now so this brought back some memories.

    These days, I like bcc because I don’t always want to advertise who I am talking to in certain circumstances (giving instruction,recipes, an invitation). Sometimes I think others might appreciate some tips while I am sending to the one asking or needing (and I don’t mean family necessarily). I get, “I didn’t know that. Thanks.” No-one feels they’ve been centred out. Sound legit?

    I love e-mail. I’m not into FB or Twitter. Who has the time for all these platforms? Not me.

    • Sounds legit and I don’t have an issue with your approach, because it’s coming from a good place. It really is only with the advent of technology that we have been able to reach so many people with the one communication piece. It’s when personal agenda in a business context overrides practicality that I don’t agree with it. Got any good jokes you can send me?

  8. I just don’t use “cc” period. As I don’t use email for business, that facility is not required and a long time ago I ditched everyone who thought it was cool to flood my inbox with ‘fwds’.
    Email is convenient for me too…..I’m also not interested in FB or Twitter.

    • So refreshing to hear your point of view. I’ve recently taken a huge step back from Facebook. It started to resemble Peyton Place far too much for my liking. I can’t avoid using email from business, it’s a necessary evil.

  9. Judy, I see the escalation cc’s all the time. If you are not plugged in at all times, you can witness the escalation like a tennis match. If they do not pertain to you, just delete them and move on. Good post, BTG

    • Sound advice on the delete. It’s a bit harder to do when you’re at the receiving end of the escalation. But you’re right, moving on and staying professional is the answer.

  10. Great post. The only time I use CC and BC is when I have to with work. It’s not a matter of brown nosing but “the Powers that Be” at my workplace prefer to be in the loop. I get into trouble for “not” including people! Can’t win, eh!

  11. Hi again – glad we agree about the physical exercise part 🙂 I would like to ask you, what “work related silos” means? I am not sure what that is?

    BTW, I clicked yes to “receiving e-mail notifications” about new replies (= follow-up comments) to this post but I never received any and do not know why. I was wondering if no one had replied and so checked in manually to look for new replies. Now I see that there are many new replies and I wonder why I was not notified of that. Do you or anyone else know why this happens?

    And yes, we will catch up soon 🙂

    • Some of my other blogging buddies have also experienced problems with notifications. I’m hoping it’s now fixed. If not, try selecting the option again. It may work this time.

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