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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fobbed Off By Forwards

It seems benign--that email that asks a question for which you do not have an answer.

It's so easy. You press Forward.  Tap a couple of names of people who might know the answer, and off your email and the burden of answering the questions flies, cleared from you screen--your workload.

Only that email wasn't intended for other people.  It was written to you, and if that writer of that email had you in mind, she/he shaped the content and tone to fit the purpose, occasion, and the reader:  specifically you.

A problem solver, you hit forward. That action did not solve the problem for the writer, and it created more problems for both of you.

1. Because you did not ask the writer's permission to forward that email, you invaded her privacy and now she doesn't trust you or feel comfortable communicating with you without writing notes that could be forwarded to large groups of people.  It stymies her, slows down the work flow and creates a barrier between you that you don't even know about because she's not saying:  "Please don't forward my emails without permission."   She will just resist asking you questions in the future, and more work that could be accomplished won't be or won't be accomplished quickly.

2. The Forwarded Email stalled the writer's momentum in accomplishing her task because she was now stuck waiting for answers to come from people who didn't reply to the Forward. The comparison is like having your telephone call transferred to someone else, being put on hold on the telephone, and then no one ever comes back to see who is holding or what is needed.

3. Forwarding that email created a "fobbed off on someone else" quality to your working relationship when the occasion could have resulted in building the currency of trust that coworkers truly need.  That kind of trust builds cohesion within a workplace team.  The splintering divided effect you don't want can happen by tapping that Forward button, fobbing off the person in need.

4. The question asked was on point, and you actually needed to know the answer too. Forwarding the question takes you out of the loop of having the answer readily available the next time someone asks it, and there's a good chance someone else will.  When a question for a fact or a name arises, there's a red flag that points to a hole in the communication dissemination process, and people in key positions need the answer and to pay attention to why the question needed to be asked in the first place.

5.  A tendency to forward inquiries to others can highlight that hole in the communication process at work.  The type of information needed for this occasion belonged in the Minutes of the meeting, but the Minutes were not ready yet (and not late, by the way, for there's a stretch of time between the meetings, and the Minutes appeared at a snail's pace to fit that time frame). That's the problem right there.

Seeing the problem, I wrote the secretary who takes the notes for the Minutes.  She answered speedily.  It was the only answer I got to my original question.  No one who received the Forwards nor the person I originally wrote to ever replied.


  1. To fob or not to fob an email that is the question, but first I must know what it means to fob an email. Fob: Deceive, cheat (

    I would feel cheated if an email of mine was forwarded off to someone else to answer. I would not mind if the recipient of my email composed a new original email to someone else asking for some information required to answer my question. I would expect the answer to come from the person I first sent the email request.

  2. This is a rather interesting topic! Sending e-mails is usually an easy way to communicate with colleagues, friends, and family members. However, it can turn into a very nerve wracking situation if the other person does not respond in a timely manner. In addition, fowarding the e-mail to someone else, in my opinion, is very disrespectful. I would rather them be honest and say that they do not know the answer, but will do their best to find the answer.

    -Shelecia Parker
    WI4 B&P

  3. Forwarding an email that was original intended for your eye and attention only is sure way of losing the trust of the writer. If the writer once thought of you as a source of reliable in formation, then he or she will quickly seek another trustworthy person or reframe from asking you additional questions. In a business environment this creates situation where some people become overburden with a responsibility that was not originally theirs. Also the writer can become frustrated and less confident when seeking answers. If dealing with and external customer, this kind of activity can lead to loss of customer confidence and ultimately the loss of repeat business. The customer will in most case choose to go directly to the person they think will have the answer or your competitors.

  4. An e-mail seems like such a small thing when looking at the electronic world, when in reality it can mean so much more. A simple click can be the life or death of a persons job. It is important to look at the information at hand and really think about whether the information should be let out of the workplace, and how pertinent it is to reply. The workplace is not a place to play around but to rather do your job and do it well, and an e-mail is not a place in which one should slack.

    -Jared Murphree (WI8)

  5. Kayleigh Richardson (W17)March 22, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    I think most people do not think about these problems sometimes. Most people just want that quick fix to a problem and do not want to put some thought into it. It can be easy to become too comfortable with emails because they seem so impersonal. This is an important courtesy rule of emails and how to reply to them correctly.

  6. The so-what factor plays a role in this situation where as the readers which received the forwarded email probably had no interest in the question so they did not see a point in wasting their time finding an answer. The sender who sent the email in the beginning saw this question as beneficial to their self as well as who they sent it to, and that should be the only people reading or answering the email.

    Amanda Lee WI7

  7. Shavonda Shuford (WI7)March 23, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    Reading this blog reiterates the importance of professionalism when writing/forwarding business e-mails. In order to maintain professionalism it is important to be certain the e-mail being forwarded is relevant and purposeful.