Disabling Conversations in Outlook

With the release of Outlook 2010, Microsoft debuted a new feature called Conversations. With it, messages in Outlook—the Inbox as well as other folders—are organized by date but can also be arranged by “conversation.” When Conversations is turned on, messages that share the same subject appear as a running thread—a conversation—that can be expanded or collapsed. The idea, per Microsoft, was that users could “…quickly review and act on messages or complete conversations.”
Some people love this feature. Others despise it, with many saying it makes it more difficult to search for and identify historical messages.
One reason for user disappointment is that it’s not uncommon for teams to keep message threads running, almost as if they were “chats,” exploring topics (related or unrelated) to the initial message. As these threads branch off into peripheral threads, Outlook sometimes reorganizes the messages under “branch” threads—often with inaccurate results.

Conversations Take Over

In Outlook 2010, the Conversations feature came turned off by default. In later versions of Office, including some web interfaces, the default is for Conversations to be turned on. Fortunately, it is easy to disable—most of the time. Following are the instructions for toggling Conversations on and off, beginning with Outlook 2010.
Show as ConversationsDesktop versions of Outlook 2010/2013/2016: To turn Conversations on or off, click the View tab. Click the check box in front of Show as Conversations. Then, click “All folders” or “This folder.”
Web-based versions of Outlook: Instructions for various web-based versions of Outlook online differ. The information that follows will cover the most commonly used editions. If they don’t work for you, refer to Common Exceptions, at the end of this article.
Be warned that for web-based versions of Outlook, Conversations is a folder-level setting. If you have segregated your Inbox into multiple folders, you will need to disable Conversations for each one. Any new folder that you create will also have Conversations enabled.
Filter ConversationsCommon instructions for web-based versions of Outlook, including Outlook.com, Outlook on the Web (also called Outlook Web App, or OWA) and Office 365 online, (the Mail tab on the Office 365 menu): For most of these variants, there is no View tab. Look for a drop-down link at the top right of the message list. Depending on the version and user-selected preferences, it may be named Filter, or it may reflect sorting or view order, e.g. All; Items by Date.
Click this link, and you will see a variety of filter and sort options. If you don’t have All selected as your filter, then do so. Next, look for the option that says “View as” or “Show As” (depending on the interface). Look for a Messages option and click it. This should uncheck the box in front of Conversations. If not, click on the checkmark in front of Conversations to uncheck it.

Common exceptions

OWA 2010: Like the installed version of Outlook 2010, there is a View tab with a Conversations option. Uncheck it.
Outlook 2013: Look for a sort option, e.g. Conversations by Date, at the top of the message list. Click it and uncheck the Conversations or Use Conversations option at the bottom of the list.
Outlook on the Web: If none of the above instructions work, look for a gear icon (top right corner) and click it. Choose Display settings or Settings, then deselect Conversations. Click OK or Save.
If you decide that you miss Conversations but want to tweak it, there are options that let you change sort order and make a few other adjustments. To learn more, give us a call.

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