The Etiquette of Sending Messages
How many chat groups are you on? Are you the recipient of unsolicited direct messages? Do you get added to groups before you know it’s happening? Do you need to stay on top of messages via Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Slack and multiple email addresses? Does your phone notify you of incoming messages late at night? There’s no doubt that the proliferation of digital and mobile communications, and the various platforms they host, have been a godsend during this pandemic. Their ability to keep us in touch with people we can’t see face to face - either around the corner or across the world - must have been a lifeline for many. I’m on a few chat groups with friends and family where bad memes and black humour are the currency of conversation. It’s enough to get us all through some dark times.
But what happens when you can’t keep up? What happens when you feel inundated by contact that takes you away from the very real job of managing what’s happening in real time? What happens when replying to people starts to feel like a very long to-do list? What happens when you feel like the urgency of other people’s priorities is invading your life?
Lately, I’ve felt somewhat overwhelmed by the notifications on my phone. I’m not talking about Facebook and Instagram updates. Let’s just park those right here - that is a whole other story. What I’m referring to is the list of unread messages that I have to open and reply to at some point. Usually late at night when I’m in bed and should be reading and resting, not looking at a blue screen. So I want to open up a conversation about messaging etiquette. There are certainly some things we can do to take responsibility for ourselves and prevent us from feeling beholden to the task of answering messages. But I do believe it goes hand in hand with a public discussion around being more considerate as to what, when, why and how we send messages (I don’t really care from where you send your message!). It’s time for a social contract.
Here are some habits that I think we could all be mindful of to curb the problem:
The after hours message
Making an assessment about when to send a message should be a factor in your composition. Just because you want to write it straight away, doesn’t mean you should send it straight away. Especially if straight away means dinner time or bedtime for the recipient. If a thought has just occurred to you and you need to write it down right away before you forget, you can resist the temptation to send the message straight away but still capture it so you don’t forget by jotting it down in the notes app, or similar, on your phone. Then copy and paste it into WhatsApp later when the hour is more appropriate. Those hours will probably depend on your relationship with the recipient/s: employees, clients, colleagues, friends, family, romantic partners or school parents. But it’s polite to assume that most people don’t want to be disturbed while they’re eating, sleeping or looking after kids.
The group add
This might be controversial, but I’m not a fan of the group add. I understand it’s far more economical to share one message with many people simultaneously, and I don’t begrudge being in a group. But I’d like to be asked first. Being added to a group chat without consent puts the onus squarely on the add-ee to extricate themselves if they’re not happy being on the chat. No one wants to be the trigger-happy, instant “Exit Group” person when things are just getting started. Equally, we may not be happy suddenly being the recipient of hundreds of messages going back and forth between participants when we’re already fielding a mountain of other communications. So, how about you drop me a short message first and ask if I’d like to join?
The instant messenger
I was amazed to hear from my children a few years back, that they had a deep sense of obligation to reply to messages within a fixed time limit such as 60 seconds or so. Otherwise, the sendee will take it that they don’t like them. What a pressure to put on ourselves, to reply instantly. I fall into this trap. I have this misplaced sense of duty to reply to my messages instantly. We all seem to have adopted this notion that just because communication can be quick and messages delivered instantly, that we should act accordingly. But let us remember that there are still people behind the platform and we don’t schedule our day around receiving and replying to messages that people need answering. It places enormous expectation on everyone and no one should be presumed rude because they simply can’t reply to the message within seconds.
The voice recording
Have you noticed how people are now recording a voice message and sending it to you via WhatsApp instead of typing a message? It’s rather efficient. Great for the short acknowledgment or confirmation of a delivery or lunch date. On the other hand, if it contains any detailed information tor points that require action, we will have to listen to the whole message again and transcribe it’s contents into a written form to refer to at a glance later. Instead, you must listen again and write down any facts you need to keep.
The consecutive sender
It’s like you can see someone’s mind working sometimes. You know… when you receive multiple messages in a matter of seconds, each one containing a separate but related piece of information? It’s become common for people to start writing and sending while they’re still thinking about what else they need to say on a particular topic, resulting in a series of short messages, corrections, and even deleted messages from those that review what they’ve just sent and discover that it might have been best to edit their thoughts before sharing. My children tend to write like this, in sound bites instead of one paragraph. I wonder if this is just the modern way?
I probably sound old fashioned and just moaning, but I have a feeling I’m echoing the sentiments of many of us who are feeling fatigued. All it takes is a little discipline and we might all be able to enjoy a bit more breathing space. So share this little checklist with those near, dear and not so clear.
- Is it urgent?
- Is it true and relevant?
- Is it offensive (just spreading negativity or gossip)?
- Is it within socially acceptable hours?
- What is the right form of communication for this message?
- Is it easier to discuss this in a phone call?
- Can I say it more succinctly?
- Can I condense multiple messages into one?
Now, let’s see to those emails, shall we?!