The Psychology of the To: Line

To: My Pet, My Protege; My Pal; My Chum; My Irritant; MyNemesis; My Irrelevant;
CC: My Boss; My Boss’ Peer; My Future Boss; My Team; Some Else’sTeam; Annoyances and Barnacles;

(An author who adds recipients one by one from the contact listgenerally yields a reversed ordering, with their precious on theright, and their hobbit on the left)

The director of IT just sent out the newSynergizing, Leveraging, And Monetizingstrategy paper. As a principal resource in the new initiative, youfind yourself a bit unnerved that they included you last in thelist of To: recipients.

The outrage!

Their pet employees and sycophants lead the list, followed bythe corporate zombies jerkily stumbling towards the inevitable inthe next restructuring.

Your email address is bringing up the rear.

The CC: line has the same ordering, though in that caseit’s the parties not directly involved in the matter discussed.

Reading Patterns

Was it purely an oversight, or was it an intentional declarationabout your standing?

Don’t read too much into it!” most people will answer.“Don’t be paranoid!”

And those people would often be right: Many times people reuseold To: lists, or they’re technical fumblers barelymanaging to pull addresses from the contact lists, adding them asthey come across them in the sorted list and then reevaluating theline to figure out who’s missing. They might be intentionallyrandomizing recipient lists (which is a tactic I generally use toavoid recipient lists conveying more than I explicitly intend).Maybe they intentionally alphabetize.

That isn’t always the case, though, and there are oftenvery real, albeit subtle and generally passive-aggressive,communications when people are given the opportunity to “order” orprioritize other people, particularly their coworkers.

Even when it’s subconscious, there is still meaning in the orderwith which participants came to mind. Maybe they’re consciouslytrying to avoid sending a certain message, for instance placingtheir office romance last on the recipient list.

It’s similar to the choice of seating for a wedding — hardly anaccidental venture, no matter how much your blushing-bride cousintries to convince you that you’re in the nose-bleed section bypurely random chance.

The Many Avenues of Communication

Today is the beginning of the loose-leaf collections in myneighborhood. It’s a time when squadrons of vacuum trucks gogrumbling down the streets, tentacle-like leaf sucking attachmentprobing about, clearing the curbs and roadside of tree litter.

It’s a wonderful service by a fabulous city.

To leverage this service, everyone rakes their lawn, pushingpiles of leaves up to the curb to get sucked away, carried off tosome unseen composting facility.

I went out to rake — of course at the last possible moment –to discover that my neighbor, who I share an open grass borderwith, had just raked. But instead of raking to the clear butunmarked border between the houses, they pulled back and left anextra foot or so, apparently leaving it for me to rake.

Perhaps they’re conceding an extra foot of the land to me Inthis way I’m a victorious land conqueror!

Perhaps instead they’re being jerks, intentionally leaving someextra work for me, maybe as some sort of jab for an unknownslight.

Maybe the lazy son did it and quite simply tried to trim off alittle bit of work.

There is information to be read, although it shrouded in a lotof misinformation and misreading, as is often the case.

Eyes Wide Open

I would end with “keep an eye out for these non-directcommunications, primarily ensuring that you aren’t unintentionallyprojecting them because people are payingattention“, yet most people are already very perceptive tothese sorts of subtle hints: Human communication is vastly moreinvolved and complex than simply the words that are spoken orwritten. Instead this is simply a bit of a thought piece as Iponder the many messages that we convey and receive every day.