Old habits can be hard to break. For years, a product manager friend of mine was required to blind carbon copy (BCC) his boss when emailing other executives. Even after he joined a new software development company that prioritized agile methodologies and discouraged backdoor communication, he had to make a conscious effort to stop doing it. The practice was that ingrained in his thinking.
BCC is a carryover from an earlier time, a stubborn survivor of a now-extinct workplace inhabited by power suits, typewriters, and carbon paper.
But while most of us happily watched that outdated workplace slip into history, some people clung to the BCC. You would be surprised how many product managers still quickly add a BCC to their emails without much thought.
Some might argue that it is a courtesy, keeping interested parties in the proverbial loop. Or in dysfunctional organizations, they may insist that it serves as a necessary check-and-balance. Others may even make the case that BCC is a safety measure -- reducing the number of times that your email shows up in other inboxes.
But I have always thought that leaders who required their product managers to BCC others carried a whiff of bad karma. It is a little bit of evil, masquerading in email form.
You may not have given it much thought before now. But by adding a BCC you are essentially creating an email eavesdropper -- deliberately hiding the identity of that BCC'd individual from the recipient. Once exposed, the practice erodes trust. And it often gets exposed like a secret when you least expect it.
Open, honest communication is the only way to work. No one is perfect but it is important emphasize transparency. This is often refreshing for people, especially those who have endured the secret-handshake environments that still exist in many workplaces.
Here is why I say that it is time for BCC to become extinct:
Concealing the true audience on an email chain runs counter to the idea of trust. When you add it to your own emails without a thought, it is like putting a glass against the door of the conversation. Once opened, it shatters trust. And if you require your team member to include you as a BCC, it demonstrates a lack of faith and causes that team member to feel inadequate to the task.
In a company where BCC is rampant, the recipient is forced to speculate about who is also reading the email and why the sender might bother concealing the identity of others. It takes the focus away from the work at hand and leads to paranoid thinking, as well as well-justified questions about what is really going on.
BCC sets up barriers to honest communication and hurts your opportunity to engage beyond the superficial. If the practice of BCC is an open secret, the other person is not likely to be candid -- considering that some unknown party is reading an email sent to them. And it introduces unnecessary complexity and intrigue, tangling up straightforward relationships.
If you want a culture that is based on trust, honesty, and mutual respect, you need to root out practices that undermine it.
Is BCC part of your modus operandi? If so, it may not seem like a big deal -- perhaps even a necessary evil. But as more workplaces wake up to the need for transparency, many old-fashioned practices no longer make sense.
It is time to kick BCC into history, right alongside that authoritative style of communication.
What sneaky workplace practices frustrate you?