Email Group Distribution Lists: Love or… Love less

Email group distribution lists are so easy to love. Because they are a specific and predetermined collection of contacts, distribution lists simplify the process of sending email to a group of people – saving us from typing everyone’s email address every time.  Once we’ve created an email distribution list, all we have to do is type the name we gave our distribution list in the To… field, and Volia! our predetermined collection of contacts will receive our brilliantly written email message or meeting request. What’s not to love?

Well, there are a few things not to love – but this has more to do with how we use them rather than the tool itself. Consider the following mock situation.

You are a Sales Director who manages a team of 20 people (15 Sales Managers and 5 Sales Assistants), and you have just sent an email to these people using the offices ‘Sales Team’ email group distribution list. The purpose of the email is to ask who will attend a client event this week. Pretty straight forward right? Not quite – to make it more realistic, let’s add the following facts:

  • Only Sales Mangers are invited to this client event (sometimes Sales Assistants are invited)
  • Three Sales Managers are on vacation for the week


While using the ‘Sales Team’ email distribution list was convenient for you, sending the invitation to eight of your team members will result in the following challenges:

  • The five Sales Assistants each have to open, read and consider your request. Additionally, one or more of them may not realize they are not invited. Worse yet – they may (embarrassingly for all), show up at the event
  • The three Sales Managers who will return from vacation now have to open, read and consider an invitation that has passed and is no longer relevant
  • An added obstacle is that if any of your ‘in office’ team members use Reply to All vs. Reply to respond to you; everyone (including the unfortunate eight), will have the daunting task of sorting through additional unnecessary email and chatter on this one subject

The end result is irrelevant email messages and unfortunately a lot of wasted time – which means a lot of wasted earning potential for your company.


A safer, more professional, etiquette friendly – and time-friendly approach would be to do a one-time edit to the distribution list before sending the request.

How to Edit a Group Distribution List

To send something to only part of a distribution list, you must do a simple manual edit to remove the names you don’t want included. Here’s how.

When you use an email distribution list, the only thing that shows in the To…  field is the list name. It will not show the individual addresses of your contacts. So, the first thing you need to do is to click the plus sign (+) next to the name of the distribution list – this is the “Expand Distribution” feature. Now you’re able to delete addresses. Two things to consider:

  1. The original email distribution list is not changed, so next time you use it, it will be a complete list
  2. Once you expand a distribution you cannot collapse the list again

Know Who’s in Your Group Distribution List/Keep Your List Up-To-Date

On a side note, sometimes we get too used to the resources we use. Therefore, I recommend you occasionally review who is in the email distribution lists you use. This way you can update the lists appropriately by adding new team members or removing people whose responsibilities have changed. This will prevent you from sending email to a broader group when a narrower audience is intended.

These simple tips will help you save time, money and reputation in your day-to-day email communication.

Happy communication and email writing. 

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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