The ‘Blind Carbon Copy’ option in emails seems like a handy feature of messaging, where you can send to people without others seeing that this has been done. It has its place, but can also create problems worth us looking at, given how much communication happens electronically when so much of it is the source of conflict. Here are a few of my pros and cons.
1. The BCC is naturally great for sending notifications to many people without them seeing each other’s email address. This respects privacy and avoids long email address lists appearing in front of recipients before they have even read your message. (It might also be useful where a person missed out on a group send for a valid reason and you don’t want them feeling as if they are an afterthought).
2. The pseudo-BCC form of forwarding separately so as to add clarifying comments can be useful to enhance the overall communication, as long as the new recipient is the right person in the chain and not a new partner in gossip. (It’s probably good to assume that your own emails will be forwarded as this helps regulate what you write).
3. Where a message has been directly sent BCC to one or more people, though, this can be dangerous if it is about a problem with a direct recipient. It undermines trust, especially in teams. Imagine, for example, how a person involved in a conflict situation will feel if they later learn that others know about the content but they themselves weren’t previously aware of this. (Obviously, conflict shouldn’t normally be escalated by email, since direct interaction can help identify what is meant by what is said; exceptions might be where multiple people are involved with objective comments or where a well-thought-out record is needed, as if this were a letter).
4. Where a BCC is used, it is important for the sender to then ensure that all relevant correspondence is also forwarded. This is vital, because the receiver will make assumptions based only on what they have read. The absence of other clarifying emails or extra information can (and does) skew perceptions and make the communication exercise worse, not better.
5. It is sometimes worth asking whether a BCC is more about keeping others in the loop or about managing the sender’s emotions. If we ‘feel’ something, we should resolve it by other means and not through the permanency of impersonal writing. Unless we are responsible for lodging a written record or making matter-of-fact statements, the phone is still a great alternative to face-to-face communication for processing the associated emotions. It’s amazing how many emails can cause angst because an initial one was read in the worst, and not the best, light and where the offended person has then suggested that the phone should have been used….but in their email!