my coworker keeps cc’ing our manager when she emails me

A reader writes:

I’m a supervisor with not much experience and still learning. I do make mistakes, but I’m pretty good at taking responsibility and rectifying my mistakes.

There is a customer service supervisor who constantly cc’s my department director if she disagrees with the answers I give to the customer service reps. Instead of calling me or emailing me to figure out things, she does not give me the oportunity to review and rectify something if I’m wrong. She emails me and cc’s my boss, her manager, and even customer service reps This supervisor thinks it is better to cc upper management instead of communicating directly with me, which makes me feel that I’m not capable of handling the situation.

I would really like for this to stop and have her communicate better with me since we are both supervisors, but I’m not sure how to do it.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ana Eats Everything

    Hey Alison, it looks like the link actually points to a conversation about body odor, not about CC’ing supervisors. Just wanted to let you know – it was fascinating reading either way!

    Reply
    1. Ana Eats Everything

      Whoops, I refreshed the page immediately after posting this and it was corrected. Sorry for the confusion!

      Reply
  2. Murphy

    We have a few generic email addresses, such as “chocolate-teapots@organization.com”. I manage a listserv, and if people don’t like something that I sent out for whatever reason, they often reply to me and copy the generic email address, probably in the hopes of reaching a higher up…but I’m the only one that uses that email address regularly. It makes me laugh every time.

    Reply
    1. anonz

      Yeah, I love that sort of thing. I once talked to a salesperson who would not accept that (a) we were uninterested in her company’s paid services and (b) I had the authority to tell her this. She ended the call with “Well, I have your boss’s email on file so I’m just going to reach out to him anyway.” Sure, be my guest. That’s just going to forward to me and I will happily tell you to F off there too

      Reply
    1. Ego Chamber

      Agreed. I was a supervisor at a call center and if another supervisor gave misinformation, policy was to forward the email (evidence) to their manager to deal with… except none of us ever did that. Whoever noticed the information was wrong would go to the person who’d given the wrong information and tell them what was wrong, or if we were too busy for that we’d email them (no cc’s) with a brief explanation and a link to the correct information. Processes and policies changed all the time, and it was easy to miss updates. The person who’d written the original email would then send a correction to all the agents they’d sent the original to, with a “my mistake, here’s the correct way to do this.”

      This was at a dysfunctional workplace where management looked for any excuse to penalize because if there was a write-up on file, we weren’t eligible to receive bonuses until the write-up fell off (6 months). Since we were a smaller group and got along pretty well/didn’t want to screw each other out of extra money, it made more sense to have everyone’s back instead of telling a manager about every tiny mistake. We saved talking to management for issues that were really egregious, like when another supervisor started ignoring agents who had a caller who wanted to talk to a supervisor and just waited for someone else to take it—that wasn’t a good look for any of us.

      Reply
    1. KDat

      Sometimes it may be passive aggressive and there is no doubting that crap happens when it shouldnt. But sometimes it’s a way to get results and hold people accountable when they are otherwise unresponsive, have repeat issues with following through, and other (more reasonable and direct) approaches have not been effective.

      Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        Generally, you escalate one step at a time, though. CC’ing managers right off the bat skips those first steps though. OP seems reasonable, open to feedback, and not at all defensive. Those initial steps would likely work very well with her. Going straight to CC’ing her manager is aggressive.

        Reply
          1. Jennifer Thneed

            Yeah. I cc *my* manager if they have asked to be kept in the loop. I cc *someone else’s* manager (along with mine) when my email says something like “Last week you said you would have xyz information for me yesterday. I haven’t received anything yet – when can I expect it?” That makes it clear to their management that I’ve already tried on my own. (And it gives them a chance to, y’know, say “oops, I never hit ‘send’ on that” and cover their butts, which is honestly fine with me, as long as I get the thing I need.)

            Reply
            1. Toph

              But it sounds like in this case they have the same manager, the director mentioned. I’d like to give the OP the benefit of the doubt, but it also occurs to me that if she has had a pattern of mistakes, it’s possible the director asked the other supervisor to cc when more happen. It’d be unfortunate if only one of them knew it, making this look passive aggressive, but it may be a case of director asking to be in the loop. I think Alison’s recommendations can work because if the director did ask to be looped in, asking the person to come to her directly my trigger the response that he’d made the request. Asking for some sort of mentorship to help reduce the mistakes, if it does reduce them, would make the thing that caused the ccing potentially a moot point, whether it were coming from the director or the other supervisor. So I think the suggestions all work, regardless of why this happening in the first place, unless the why is “other supervisor is a jerk”, but if that is the case then it does reflect poorly on that person, not OP.

              Reply
          2. Zip Zap

            I cc them as a next step. I think it’s nicer to keep the person in the loop and give them a chance to apologize, correct their mistake, or whatever is called for. I wouldn’t have a private conversation with someone’s manager unless there was an on-going issue that was affecting my work and talking to them either wasn’t an option or hadn’t been productive.

            Reply
    2. Hmmmmm

      It’s really interesting, this letter just sparked a debate in my office area. About half of the people think it is passive aggressive and about half just think that is something you are *supposed* to do. About half of the latter half all said they thought it was the opposite of passive aggressive. They said they do it to wash their hands of it and let someone else decide it whatever was being detailed was right or wrong.

      Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        I think if half your office is one way or the other, your manager hasn’t done a good job of setting expectations. It should be pretty clear which things needs management approval and which issues are worked out between individual contributors.

        Reply
        1. Hmmmmm

          We all have different managers. Its one of those things where we all have the same job type, but work on unrelated projects for different departments.

          Reply
      2. Hekko

        But… if I want to shove some problem on the boss, I forward to him with a question directed to him and CC the other participant. I don’t just CC him without telling him that I want him to step in.

        Reply
      3. Stranger than fiction

        I think the one half isn’t understanding something. It may be normal to do if Op had actually done something wrong thereby needing to loop in the big boss. These sound like subjective items the other supervisor is nitpicking which comes off like a kid screaming “mooom seee what she’s doing she’s coloring the sun green!”

        Reply
        1. Zip Zap

          I agree. If you do it preemptively or when it’s not called for, it comes across as mean.

          I don’t think it’s always passive aggressive, though. I do it in situations like this:

          Me: Could you please send me the teapot handles?
          Them: I would, but our office can’t release them until June.
          Me: We need them by April 19th to remain on schedule.
          Them: That would be in violation of policy.
          Me (cc’ing my boss and theirs): Where can I find this policy? What happens when it interferes with the production schedule?

          Reply
          1. Sarah G

            I don’t have all the context for this, but I wouldn’t cc any supervisors yet, as long as the other person is engaging with me about it (as opposed to ignoring my request completely). I would probably word my respond like this:
            Me: “I’m not familiar with this particular policy. Could you please clarify the policy and let me know where I can find it? Also, do you know what happens if it interferes with production schedule? I’ll have to check in with Boss and ask how she wants me to handle this.”
            Alternatively, if I knew the person pretty well, I might call them to try to discuss it that way. It seems like it could just be a miscommunication. Either way, I would take it at least one step further than this before cc-ing a supervisor, and if I was “Them” in this situation, I’d be annoyed that you cc’d bosses. Granted, the “Them” person isn’t being very forthcoming, but still it seems premature to cc anyone.

            Reply
    3. Orca

      I’m constantly worried people think I’m passive aggressively cc’ing my manager when it’s really just he’s pretty micro-manage-y and I have to most of the time. Sorry, people I email, I don’t like it either!

      Reply
        1. Ego Chamber

          I had a manager who insisted all of his subordinates cc him on any communication with anyone else in the company (the official line was something-something people used work email to coordinate hook-ups and it was embarrassing for the company and he didn’t want it to happen anymore? because if I was doing that, I would definitely cc my manager on those emails too, right?).

          But. He didn’t want anyone using bcc because then they might bcc other people too, and the manager thought that would be dishonest (missing the possibility that we could (and did) sometimes bcc people anyway—like his boss, after she told us to bcc her on any email that he was cc’d on—and no amount of normal cc’ing him would stop that).

          Tl;dr: Usually it’s either because of some policy and/or a fundamental misunderstanding of how the technology works.

          Reply
  3. M from NY

    Unless the powers that be are regularly agreeing with the coworkers complaints I would not advise OP to look at coworker for any type of mentoring. She is deliberately framing her responses to make OP look bad in front of upper management. She is NOT on your side nor should she be trusted. If you’re making a lot of mistakes get the training or feedback you need from another source but understand being new isn’t an excuse with long legs.

    Reply
    1. DecorativeCacti

      I agree. Especially since she is including people both above AND below OP.

      I suppose it’s hard to know for sure without reading an actual email, but it seems the intent is to undermine OP throughout the whole command chain.

      Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      She is new and says when she makes mistakes, she takes responsibility. But it doesn’t sound like she meant her answers to these customer service emails are wrong, per se, just not how the other person would reply. Maybe I’m not reading it right but that’s how I took it. Even if she did give them the wrong answer, if I were the other supervisor, I’d reply to het only with my alternative answer, and only if Op were rude about it or not taking my feedback, only then would I cc the big boss as a last resort/I tried kinda thing.

      Reply
  4. MicroManagered

    Ahhhhhh the Unnecessary Escalator. To me it’s one of those office “types” that everyone has run into at some point. It can be frustrating, but I think they usually end up damaging their own reputation more than anything.

    Reply
    1. Anon Accountant

      Yup!! I worked with one who eventually spent so much time pointing out others “mistakes”, which were they did things differently than she and they weren’t incorrect. Just that it wasn’t her way so it was “wrong”.

      She got herself fired and no one is on speaking terms with her, much less to have offered a good reference or to help her job search.

      Reply
    2. Librarianne

      I once had a colleague who CC’ed or BCC’ed our branch manager on every single email she sent me. She also was an abuser of the little red “important” exclamation point– probably 75% of her emails were marked with it.

      I somehow lasted five years working with her, but I ended up in therapy and having near PTSD from her level of nitpicking and micromanaging. Everyone who came after me quit after a year or less and literally all of us had to seek mental health help after working with this person.

      Reply
  5. anna green

    Yes. I work with someone like this, and I would always get so stressed out when they cc my boss + grandboss. But then it came up one day and they think its really weird too. So it reflects more on them than you. Just try to stay above it and try your best to give Alison’s suggestions a shot.

    Reply
  6. Rachael

    From my experience, when someone does that everybody rolls their eyes and the manger that was CC:d ignores the email. It’s pretty lame tactic.

    Reply
    1. Stranger than fiction

      Right. And I would ask my manager what her opinion was and if I truly needed to work on improving something or not.

      Reply
  7. PizzaDog

    Is it passive aggressive to reply back with a link to a YouTube clip from The Office where Jim does his Stanley impression – ‘why do you keep ccing me on things that have nothing to do with me?’

    I can’t imagine that your grandboss is sparing more than a passing glance at these e-mails. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Reply
  8. PhyllisB

    OP, how does your supervisor respond to this? Agree or disagree with the whatever challenge the other supervisor raises isn’t really the issue. Does she say anything to you? Does she say anything to the other supervisor? If she doesn’t seem overly concerned about these cc’s, perhaps you could ask your supervisor to tell her to take it up with you personally and stop sending emails with a cc to her. At the very least she shouldn’t be ccing the CSP’s. That’s going to undermine your authority with your employees. (Of course, that could be her intention.)

    Reply
  9. Heather

    So a cowroker of mine always copied in our (same) boss on every. email. I asked her about it and her response was “I just want him to be in the loop and know what I’m working on.” I told her I thought it was overkill as your work will come out in the results you put out.

    Fast forward, she’s now my boss. And I have to CC her on everything because if I don’t it bites me in the butt. I hate it, but it’s not a battle I’m willing to fight just now.

    Reply
    1. DecorativeCacti

      I had a boss like that and she ended up with so many emails that she couldn’t stay on top of them and she would bulk delete emails. Very frequently she would end up lumping in important ones that she never saw.

      Reply
      1. Heather

        Urgh, YES! This happens all the time and drives me bonkers! I feel like it’s a reasonable expectation for emails to at least be looked at (if not a basic response of “i’m looking into it) within 24-48 hours. So when I follow up after a week I hate it.

        Reply
        1. Ego Chamber

          Just make sure you have an archive set up that doesn’t auto-delete things after a certain timeframe so you can forward them back to her.

          Protip: Outlook for business will do the auto-delete thing if it’s set up like that as a default and then you might end up not having an email from 5 months back that ends up being crucial to prove your manager gave you an instruction she’s trying to write you up for following—but she “accidentally” lost the email and you don’t have it anymore because it was older than 4 months and you didn’t know about needing to set up a special archive so Outlook wouldn’t delete your copy out of a folder titled SAVE – IMPORTANT (ask me how I know?).

          Reply
  10. SleeplessInLA

    I had a co-worker who did this and I still loathe them to this day. OP, it will likely keep nagging at you until you address it head on and I’ve found that passive aggressive people don’t handle direct confrontation well so just flip it back on them.

    I pulled my co-worker to the side and asked “Is there a reason you CC Fergus on emails to me because if there’s ever an issue I think we’re more than capable of figuring it out without involving upper management.” Depending on your personality (I have a strong one and was fed up) you can add “There have been several times you’ve made errors or let something fall through the cracks and I’ve always contacted you directly so it seems a little odd that you prefer to loop in our boss.”

    While I maintained professionalism, I let them know that I was aware that they were more or less trying to make me look bad in front of management and it stopped happening immediately afterwards.

    Reply
  11. NW Mossy

    As a boss, I occasionally get these types of “your employee made en error” missives from individual contributors in other departments and they generally do not achieve the effect the sender’s hoping for. If all the sender is doing is cc’ing me without any specific action requested of me, I will read it with more than a few grains of salt in hand.

    For those who send these types of emails with the intent that I’ll use my authority to impose negative consequences on the person you have an issue with: stop it. Instead, call me or send me a separate email that clearly outlines what’s already happened and what you want me to do now. If you need me to lean on them to act, say so. If you want me to tell them about how their error negatively impacted you and give them feedback, say so. But be real and direct about what you’re doing. Otherwise, I’m going to discount what you say at least 25% because you weren’t willing/able to articulate the issue and your desired outcome and instead expected me to read your mind.

    Reply
    1. Heather

      I agree with you on this whole heartedly. I will sometimes copy in someone’s boss if I’m not getting a response, just in hopes of them seeing it and saying “oh sh*t”. But I also usually send a separate email to the boss saying “copied you because I can’t get an answer after X follow ups” It’s few and far between that I do this.

      Reply
    2. Argh!

      Where I work we are required to report everything to OUR supervisor, who will go up the chain and the news will go back down the chain. This means that someone can totally destroy your reputation behind your back and you will have no idea until your supervisor says something, which may be never if your supervisor is a coward.

      We are not allowed to work things out between ourselves.

      Yes, I am looking for another job.

      Reply
  12. Gadfly

    To me it sounds like OP may have inherited a CYA fix from a former problem that became standard practice for this employee. The fixes for the things that blew up in our faces tend to stick hardest.

    Reply
  13. Argh!

    If your department director tolerates it there may be a reason. It’s possible that the higher-ups are tired of hearing her rants in person or over the phone and have instructed her to cc: to keep them in the loop. It can’t hurt to ask your boss if you should be cc’ing all and sundry, following that coworker’s lead. That may break the ice and give you the information you need.

    Being annoyed an insulted sucks but if your work isn’t being impacted, just let her be a tool.

    Reply
  14. AcademiaShouldPayMore

    I’m surprised at Alison’s answer. I usually agree with what she says but here I feel like this isn’t always helpful and it’d be best to nip it in the bud if possible or learn to deal with it and ask the head manager what they want from you and how they want you to do the job instead of having an equal as a mentor.

    Reply
  15. Chatterby

    This might be an office culture thing specific to the job.
    At my current job, it is not a big deal and is actually expected to cc the VP or senior managers on emails. This is because they want to be kept in the loop in real time, and it reduces having to write (and remember to write) a bunch of summary-type emails.
    At a previous job, cc’ing even your direct supervisor was viewed as combative.
    LW needs to figure out what’s normal for where she is, and what the intention behind the cc’ing is.

    Reply
  16. JennyJenn

    Perhaps, the coworker is taking a page out of the AMA handbook and trying to force upper management to deal with issues on the OP’s part. Imagine the coworker was the one who emaile:
    Dear AMA,
    I have a coworker who is new to management and makes a lot of mistakes. It is really causing issues in our office. etc etc etc blah blah blah

    Wouldn’t AMA respond that they should make sure that person’s manager is aware of the issues, since it is that person’s manager’s responsibility to deal with it?

    Maybe I’m crazy – but it reads to me like someone trying to get OP in trouble. It may or may nor be fair – but others have been advised to do similar things here before.

    Reply
  17. B

    I once had a manager who forced me to openly CC him on every email I did. Every. Single. One.

    I was a customer support rep, so some of these would be thank yous, acknowledgements, or other pretty inane stuff. He then complained to me he had too much email…. I found a job elsewhere and have avoided that level of micromanagement ever since.

    Reply

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