If old-fashioned manners are the oil that helps a civic society run smoothly, the modern office can feel, at times, like an overheating engine. Please and thank you have been replaced by passive-voice non-questions: “Let’s make sure that report gets filed, OK?” Water-cooler pleasantries have fallen by the wayside, replaced by flurries of GIFs on Slack. I once saw a reporter wear cargo shorts to work. The barbarians are at the gates!
Over email, we try, sometimes, to retain the vestiges of courtesy. But for each polite Best wishes there’s a too-quick reply that dispenses with kindness for the sake of expediency. I still cringe thinking about the panicked all-caps email I sent in a crisis years ago that led a colleague to respond, “Stop yelling at me!” Seldom, in our hectic, impersonal workdays, do we get the chance to feel the pleasure of the social compact fulfilled with crisp, clear resolve.
Except for the BCC Switcheroo.
You know the BCC Switcheroo. If you’re an experienced emailer, you’ve executed it any number of times. Perhaps your delight at its perfection has faded over time, but I urge you to look anew at this simple workplace technique and see it for what it is: the pinnacle of modern courtesy.
The Switcheroo happens when someone sends you an email with a third person cc’d. “Hey Dan, meet Dave,” Betty writes to you both. “You two should work together on the Manhattan Project!” As of that moment the relationship between you three is held in tension. Things could go sideways in a matter of moments. Dave could propose a meeting date only to you, yet in his message thank Betty for introducing you. He could reply-all, saying, “Oh, whoops, I’ll be in New Mexico that day.” Betty could feel compelled to reply-all, telling Dave she loves New Mexico and wondering if she had the right email address for you. Maybe she adds another email address that isn’t you, it’s the person with your same name whose gym-membership emails you always get.
It’s happened to all of us: the email thread gone awry due to people replying and replying-all willy-nilly. Luckily, you know how to avoid this mess. You spring into action before Dave can reply and set off the cascade. “Great to meet you, Dave!” you write. “Let’s definitely get together to talk about world domination. Betty, thanks for introducing us—I’m moving you to BCC so you don’t need to read all our scheduling emails.” Then, up in the email’s header, you drag Dave’s address to the To: field and Betty’s address to the BCC: field.
The result of the Switcheroo? Betty will see your email and will know her will has been done, the two of you have been connected. But her email address will not appear on that email, and all further replies will bypass her completely. With one simple move you have allowed Betty to gracefully withdraw from the conversation like Homer into a bush.
You are the Emperor of Etiquette. You have struck a blow against the entropy of the universe and the chaos of the un-zeroed inbox. The triangle of you, Betty, and Dave is in perfect equilibrium, all parties happy with their place in that smoothly operating ecosystem. As Megan Garber wrote in the Atlantic in 2017, moving to BCC is a kind recognition that “that taking one for the team will occasionally mean taking people off the team.”
What possible argument could there be against this obviously handy and considerate professional action? Some people mistrust the BCC field entirely because they worry its use is deceptive. And it’s true that you should never use BCC to back-channel or to go over a co-worker’s head. That is, indeed, rude. But a useful tool for good should not be rendered invalid just because of the underhanded behavior of jerks!
Another argument against the BCC Switcheroo is that it’s … too efficient. One Slate editor called the Switcheroo stilted and creepy. “You’re just managing up to show your boss that you’ve GOT THIS,” she added. To which I say: OF COURSE we manage up. Such is the state of the modern workplace; the humble office drone must manage up, every day. For we are the managees, and our fates hang on the whims of managers whom we must massage and soothe, for otherwise they might send us emails six days later saying, “Hey did you ever follow up with Dave?”
The move to BCC is a kindness that we do for one another. And it has the added benefit of feeling great. It feels the way it must once have felt to have your footman leave your calling card with the butler, or to carefully press your insignia in melted wax. For a brief moment you are at one with ancient rules of correspondence, and all those in your orbit are satisfied. Revel in this, the most Lawful Good moment of your day. Congratulations. You earned it.