my coworker constantly cc’s our managers on her emails to 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 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.

That’s annoying.

I’d do two things:

1. Wait for this to happen again, and go talk to her in person. Ideally you’d pick an instance where the issue she’s emailing about isn’t black and white (or, even better, where she’s outright wrong, if that’s sometimes the case). Talk through the issue she raised, and at the end of the conversation, say something like, “I really appreciate you raising this so we could talk about it. In the future, if something like this comes up, would you come talk to me in person so we can figure it out more easily? I’d really appreciate it.”

2. After that, stop caring about it. All you can really try is what’s above, and if that doesn’t work, then there’s not much else you can do, other than to not let it bother you. If the people she’s cc’ing don’t want to be in the loop, they’ll either tell her that or ignore the emails (and possibly consider her cc’ing to be a bit overblown, making her a bit of a pain), but that reflects on her, not on you. On the other hand, if they do feel like it’s appropriate for them to be in the loop, then you don’t want to be discouraging her from cc’ing them — that risks coming across like you want issues hidden from them.

One more thing: Since you’re new and making mistakes, and she’s clearly interested in addressing those mistakes, is there any chance you could actually use her as more of a mentor? While this might be a hard pill to swallow, one possibility would be to go to her and say, “I really appreciate you helping me learn this stuff. I’d love to get more feedback from you if there are other things you see that I could be doing differently.” You could even ask her to go out to lunch with you periodically for that purpose.

This is going to disarm her if she’s frustrated, and it’s a really good response to critical feedback because rather than seeming like you just want her to shut up about it all, you’ll be saying the opposite — “I welcome this and want to hear more of it.” People generally love that — especially people who are concerned that you’re not doing things quite right yet — and it’s also a good thing to do in its own right, if indeed you’re making mistakes and she has useful guidance to give. And if you develop that type of relationship with her and she sees herself as a mentor to you, she’ll probably feel less of a need to cc other people rather than talking with you directly.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I’ve been having this problem too with a particular colleague because once she said ‘A’, I said ‘B’; she then questioned ‘B’ in front of the bosses, even going so far as to suggest that I’m stupid (It’s not rocket science, she protested), only to have the bosses agree with ‘B’ and telling her that she was wrong. Since then, she cc’s the bosses every time she believes I made some error. Thank God, my errors are usually inconsequential, thus making her look vindictive.

    In any event, once that email hits my box and I recognize my error, I immediate own it, apologize, and vow to make amends and refrain from repeating it. I believe only once has any of the bosses responded to such an email with a rebuke on the order of, “Be more careful in the future” and I know it’s just to appease the colleague with whom he’s close.

    1. Anonymous*

      Me too.

      Although when my “teammates” do this to me, I usually continue to address them directly either email or in person. My boss is very hands off especially in woman-to-woman issues. My coworkers can be very petty and while I do make mistakes (that I immediately acknowledge and do my best to rectify) their complaints to my boss are typically when I question something they’ve asked me to do. They take my push back as personal attacks that usually result in them giving me the silent treatment or even huddling in offices whispering about me (I’ve actually overheard them on more than one occasion). I can’t change their behavior but I don’t have to bow down to it, so I address them head on. You don’t have to like me, but you will respect me.

    2. Bea W*

      Why do people do this? I had a colleague who would cc Big Boss or hit “Reply All” any time she would call out an error I made, but then if she was the one who made an error, she would email me privately and say she made a mistake on X, it really should be Y.

      *cue hair pulling*

      Seriously, when someone makes a mistake, there is no need to announce it to the entire group. Just clue them in privately, and allow them to own having to admit it and correct it. Nothing good comes out of publicly embarrassing your co-workers for their mistakes. We all make them. Making other people look stupid is not cool.

      1. Anna*

        I kind of wanted to ask Anonymous 1 if this person’s name was [REDACTED] because it sounds exactly like the moves pulled by a former coworker. We now live in different states and work at vastly different jobs, but when we did work together, that was a known ploy of hers. She did it in meetings, on emails, and it NEVER got her the response she was going for. ARGH!

  2. Carrie in Scotland*

    I have a supervisor (not my line manager but who manages 2 colleagues of mine) and he constantly cc’s all of us about little things that could be discussed in 5 mins. It really get me down after a while. i have talked to my line manager about maybe we should have a discuss rather than emails flying all over the place but…still the same. *sigh*

  3. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

    One thing I wasn’t sure from OP’s letter is who is in charge of who, or if you and your coworker on on equal footing or not. It sounds like you guys are probably both equal supervisors, so my input may not really applicable. Buuuut…

    I once was managing a project, and a coworker senior to me came on board because a more junior person wasn’t available. This senior employee was not supposed to be managing the project, they were supposed to be doing what I told them to do – decisions were my call. However, she questioned everything I was doing. Even though I knew I was right, I let her have her way on some things that were more inconsequential so that I didn’t have to have an hour long discussion about it and so that she didn’t feel like I was shutting her down on everything, but it was really really annoying and I regretted giving in – it caused me problems in the long run, long after she was no longer working on the project.

    So, my point is that if these things are your call, own that right. You can be nice and respectful about it, and you can take her suggestions under advisement, but don’t let her behave like your boss if she isn’t.

  4. some1*

    The funniest thing is when people do this (clearly to try to get you in trouble) and they CC someone who isn’t even your boss.

  5. rlm*

    cc’ing your boss is one thing, but copying customer service reps seems even more over-the-top. This has the potential to undermine your authority with them, even if that’s not the other supervisor’s intention. I’d recommend addressing that aspect of it with her specifically, although I’m having trouble coming up with the right wording that doesn’t make it sound like you’re trying to hide your mistakes from the employees.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a good point. Maybe something like this: “I appreciate you bring this stuff to my attention, but I don’t want my team to be confused about which instruction to listen to. Please talk directly with me and then I’ll clarify with them if we need to.”

  6. KarenT*

    I wouldn’t worry to much about it–if she’s ‘cc-ing this much on your communications, I bet she’s a chronic ‘cc-er.

      1. Bea W*

        The last place I worked in the Big Boss required people to cc their managers on all communications. All it did was clutter up email boxes and annoy people.

    1. Marmite*

      We have a few of those in my workplace. I mostly check e-mail on the road on a tiny Blackberry screen so I find it especially annoying when one of my co-workers who is a chronic ‘cc-er joins an e-mail conversation that’s already a looooooong thread of back and forth (that up until this point I haven’t seen or had knowledge of) and cc’s me in on his reply. Wading back through the thread to find the original point of the e-mail is an irritating time-suck, especially with the frequency with which he does this.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m working with an organization where the culture seems to be that when there’s an email back and forth happening and someone in the chain — let’s say Jane — really doesn’t need to keep being included, someone will write, “Jane, I’m moving you to bcc to protect your in-box,” so the person receives that last message but is removed from any future “reply-all” replies. Everyone I’ve dealt with there does it; it’s pretty awesome.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          We do that here, and I know it’s done at many consulting firms as well. For me, I use it because it saves people who make introductions from having to be subjected to a bunch of boring scheduling emails (which make up the majority of emails I send).

        2. Thomas*

          That is a brilliant idea. Where I work, there are frequently emails sent out to one group of people that end up being relevant to someone else entirely, so over the course of a chain, people can get added while the people who are no longer (or never were) relevant to the issue are still getting copied on emails. This would help with that significantly.

        3. Marmite*

          That sounds like an idea I might be able to suggest and get him to take on. I don’t think he’d go for not copying me in at all as he seems to be very keen on cc’ing in general, but perhaps he’d go for blind cc. 90% + of the time I don’t need to be copied in at all and I spend five minutes scrolling with the stupid tiny Blackberry scroll button to find that the actual purpose of the e-mail has nothing to do with me!

  7. Ann Furthermore*

    Oh, this kind of thing just burns my muffins. I had a guy do that to me once. He was the Procurement Director and at the time I was the Accounting Manager.

    I got a lengthy email from him one day, taking my AP team to task because a supplier had told one of the buyers that they would not accept any more orders from us because we were so past due on our account. He proceeded to pontificate about the importance of supplier relationships, how it was critical for the business to keep operating, and so on. He copied my boss, my director, the CFO, and pretty much anyone else he could think of.

    I looked up the supplier in question, and found that all the invoices were there, but on a system-generated hold and couldn’t be paid because of things people on HIS team needed to do. So I hit Reply All, relayed this information, and told him as soon as his buyers got the invoice holds released I’d have a check cut immediately, and that we’d be glad to put it in the mail, or leave it with the receptionist if someone wanted to come pick it up.

    It was so infuriating…if he’d gotten up off his behind and walked the 50 feet from his office to my cubicle, we could have figured out what was going on in about 30 seconds. But no, he had to copy everyone under the sun in an attempt to make himself look good by making my team look bad. Grrrr.

    On the upside, this guy didn’t try anything like that with me again.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        It was very satisfying, no doubt, but still it just ticked me off. It’s stuff like this that made me decide I no longer wanted to be a manager. I just don’t have the patience for this kind of backstabbing and political maneuvering.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Heh. I can’t take credit for coming up with it myself. I read it somewhere (perhaps even here) and thought it was a much nicer way to say “pissed off.”

  8. Garrett*

    My story involes a Project Manager who I worked with doing editing for the documents we sent to clients. I would send her something or ask a question and she would reply and cc half the company. She was always right and had to point out anything that didn’t fit into her mold. She annoyed everyone to no end.

    One day we had a training class about conflict and we were both in the class. We had to relay instances of conflict and I told a tale of an overzealous emailer who clogged inboxes with pointless ramblings that could be dealt with through a ten-second conversation. I don’t know that she got it, as she offered her advice on handling this person and I moved on to other projects after that. But, I felt better.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      That is awesome! I bet everyone in the class except for her knew who you were talking about.

    2. tcookson*

      I can’t believe how often (it must be something like 99.999% of the time) the person being obliquely referred to has absolutely no idea of that fact. And that is why group talkings-to don’t work for addressing an issue with one individual.

  9. EN*

    Ah, the politics of cc’ing people. OP, does she only do this to you?

    I think whether or not it is appropriate is depends on the culture of the office, e.g. I will cc my supervisor on emails if
    – It’s a discussion point for my manager and the team (and of course not in the tone of I’m right and you’re wrong)
    – I think his input is necessary, especially on certain client works even if it’s done by my junior
    – client emailed only me. My team need to be in it so they can service the client when I’m away

  10. Matt at Team Building*

    I’m with Ann Furthermore–this is muffin-burning behavior.

    This happened to me recently, where I emailed a coworker (Ted) about a mistake I had made, and Ted cc’ed our boss in his reply. A totally unnecessary move, as my mistake didn’t affect our boss in any way. My coworker just cc’ed our boss to make himself look like a smartypants. Later on my boss came to me and said, “What’s with Ted? What an irritating email.” I was pretty pleased about that.

    OP—you can always assume that if you think someone is irritating and crazy, other people do too (this, of course, assumes that you’re one of the sane ones). That always comforts me a little bit.

    By the by, I just found this site, and I think I’m going to be here *frequently.* Excellent post.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      Nice! It’s always gratifying to find out that you’re not the only one who sees through other people’s shenanigans.

      I have a co-worker who does this, and it bugs me no end. We’re currently embroiled in a disagreement about how to handle something, and she is really pushing her solution over mine, and of course copying everyone under the sun about it. She goes on at length about why she thinks her solution is better, but then says, “But I’m not an expert.” Well clearly, you think you are. My muffins are singed at this point, and quickly moving into a charred state.

    2. tcookson*

      Welcome, Matt. This really is a great site; AAM’s answers are just about always spot-on, and then the great group of commenters will shine further light on considering the situation from nearly every angle — I know I can always find help/sanity here when I need it.

  11. Stephanie*

    Really like Alison’s suggestion and wording on how to become (hopefully) collaborative with this fellow supervisor in place of the competition-frustration going on so far. Best wishes in your situation.

  12. Kou*

    This is aggravating behavior for sure, but I have to wonder if the OP has made enough mistakes at this point that the CCer and/or her department no longer trusts her. Is she defaulting to this because it’s often been necessary in the past? Have previous attempts to settle things with the OP always ended in bringing in her supervisors? Was the OP typically wrong in these situations, but failed to discover this on her own without repeat pressure?

    1. Jazzy Red*

      This is pretty close to what I was thinking, which is perhaps the annoying emailer feels the training is not sufficient, and is letting the manager know that more training is needed in areas X, Y, and Z. But there’s no reason to cc the customer service people.

      It would be good for the OP to try to make this relationship feel more like mentoring for her, by the annoying coworker. I found that asking relevant questions can often defuse this type of situation, and will provide some valuable learning, both about the job and the company.

  13. anon*

    This would make me SOOOOoo mad. It’s such a passive aggressive thing to do. People are so dumb and heedless over email.

  14. Limon*

    I like the idea of asking her for advice. That would let you know very quickly if her intentions were honest and helpful versus mean and undermining.

    If she really wanted to help you, then she would. If she wanted to hurt your professional image and undermine you (my money’s of that one), then she will be taken aback at the friendly and open request for “mentoring.” I find people will stop the harassment when I have done that. Since they never wanted to help me in the first place, they really won’t do it when I ask them openly and honestly for helpful advice and support.

    It’s like someone poking you with a stick, if you ask them to help with an itch on your back they won’t do it. They don’t want to help you, they want to poke you with a stick, which is what they were originally doing. People do what they really want.

    1. tcookson*

      ” That would let you know very quickly if her intentions were honest and helpful versus mean and undermining.”

      Yes, this is what I was thinking in reading AAM’s response. I think it’s a good idea to reach out to the other supervisor in a collaborative spirit, but beware in case her intentions are, indeed, simply to undermine. We have one like that in our office. She proclaims herself the “champion” of all the other admins, but from my experience with her, I hope she never “champions” me again as long as I live!

  15. Anonymous*

    I work in a company where copying managers and even their managers is quite normal…just to keep the managers in the loop.

    It was something I wasn’t quite used to before (I came from a handle your business yourself environment) but it started negatively affecting my reputation if I didn’t keep management in the loop. My managers reasoning behind this was to have our backs and defend us as needed.

    As far as including customer service reps, we include other non managers if they are relevant to the conversation-not to discredit.

    Maybe someone should talk to your colleague and let her know the company culture.

  16. Katie*

    We have a lot of people working out of the office and we’re all CC:ed on all kinds of things as a matter of protocol. I like it because it keeps my work visible to people who don’t see me day to day.

    Completely different situation though.

  17. Elle-em-en-oh-pee*

    This is interesting.

    One of my former bosses insisted that he be cc’d on absolutely everything coming from his subordinates work email account, and we were in trouble if we didn’t remember to include him.

    I thought it was excessive and never got over my creeps, but one of co-workers told me that was par for the course, and tried to assure me that our workplace wasn’t the only one like that…

  18. Michael Rochelle*

    I agree with the feedback that there should be some one-on-one communication to see if the issues or questions can be resolved instead of using the bcc and including the person’s supervisor. My thought process is that managers SHOULD be too busy to want to know about every mistake their employees make unless there is a trend or the mistake is big enough to warrant upper-level attention.

    I’m not sure if I’m more bothered when someone sends me an email and adds my supervisor via bcc, or if the person is pointing out a simple mistake that’s just a part of human error. Recently a manager mentioned to me that after I filled in a few hundred fields of information, she notice that I left one field blank. Mind you, I correct issues of hers and keep it moving without pointing them out to her if it’s clear it’s just an slip-up. Instead of being upset, I just looked at her blankly and rested my chin on my fist and somehow she got the message. Problem solved. LOL.

  19. Another Emily*

    I like Alison’s advice of trying to turn her into a mentor. You know what they say, better to have someone inside the tent peeing out than outside of the tent peeing in…

  20. Jen*

    I used to really dislike CCs, but one of my subject matter experts always CCs my boss at the end of each project, and it’s [almost] always very positive. The CC can be a wonderful thing!

    On a less-than-positive note, I have another coworker that will not lift a finger to help me unless my boss knows of the request. Unfortunately (and not to excuse the behavior noted here), I have to CC him when I have work that must go through this coworker. Each time I try to “cut the cord” (ie, stop CC’ing my boss for simple requests), she pulls something petty or downright unprofessional and is usually just miserable. I am left having to fix her work, because I am responsible for the entirety of my projects. In this case, my boss is CC’d until her role in my projects are complete.

    It makes me feel like a tool when I have to CC my boss to get something done, especially when it is so petty, but I feel like a useless tool when my work is sub-par. The good news is that after each failed or miserable interaction, my boss understands more, and as a result he has been giving me more control over my projects…. and my project evaluations are getting better and better!

  21. Jaja*

    That is some terrible advise. Option A is be nice to someone who tried to screw you over and option B is do nothing. Neither of those will work or make the problem go away. Ignoring something like that which is questoning your performance is a no no for me. I would straight away write a reply email addressing all issues but not shifiting any blame towards anyone. Say it how it is especially if its not your fault and its made out to look like it is. Then I would speak to the line manager and any other senior managers face to face addressing the issue. This way I have written record of all that was said and shows I take any issues or mistakes seriously and must be addressed as soon as possible to prevent future mishaps wether from me or someone else. You cannot let people think they can get away with stuff like this it is totally not professional and a clear attack against you and your work. So take a stand while you can otherwise people will just keep walking all over you and using you as scapegoat.

  22. R.T.*

    I have had this happen with a co-worker who would actually modify my original text and then send a reply with multiple managers CC-ed, usually with some oddity like “correcting” errors which were not in my message, or even accusations of personal threats. Thank $DEITY that the E-mail system kept archived copies of messages, but just because of these CCs even though I had to keep defending myself, guess who was the first to go when there was a reorg? Yep, the guy who was the complainer kept his job while I was handed walking papers, because the managers remembered the other co-worker who always was on the offensive.

    One had to be careful about people who CC managers. It should be considered a shot across the bow, and followed up as such, especially if the person is pointing the finger. If it isn’t followed up on, it can set opinions which will haunt your career at a company later on.

  23. Onyx*

    I work in an organisation where you have monitors come to site for monitoring visits to monitor data, etc. Prior to that say, a week before or there about, I get an email from the monitors usually multiple monitors with a long list of email and cc’ing my boss without discussing these with me first. There is always alot of things to action expecially when you have to manage several studies. I try to update them on how things are progressing but I still have my boss and sometimes the world gets cc’d as well when an email is sent to me. How best does one address this?

  24. Rachel*

    I have been facing the same situation for 2 years. I think the best way is to point out the cc manager’s mistakes which of course in a diplomatic manner and cc everyone like how the cc manager did the same. That would make the cc manager reflect on what she did and she stopped ever since. Finally, instead of being stepped all over, I feel great about it ;)

  25. Wanda M.*

    Thanks for all of the comments everyone. I work in an environment where cc’ing the boss, his/her, boss and everyone else seems to be the norm. It seems so hateful!! I agree that one on one communication is the best answer. I have been in the finance arena for about 35 years and it amazes me to this day how people act in the workplace. Head games and petty behavior seems to be the norm. Again, thanks for the feedback, I know that I am not alone! Have a nice day!!!

  26. Upset*

    My co work is emailing everything that anyone do to management. And tell on everyone. And management condone it

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