The 14 Commandments of Texting Etiquette

Texting is the go-to method of communication for many of us. Yet, words only play a small part in how our message is received where emotions are involved.

Texting cannot convey tone of voice, emotions, gestures, facial expressions and body language, context – all the elements of speech required for understanding emotions.

A well-intentioned but misused emoji; a rushed reply; poor punctuation. These can all lead to misconstrued messages and feelings.

Whether you’re texting a friend, colleague, or a customer, following texting etiquette can go a long way toward avoiding hurt feelings, embarrassing situations and misunderstandings . Here are the fourteen commandments to abide by in your private and professional life:

1
Thou shalt not ghost

Ghosting is the practice of suddenly withdrawing all communication without a goodbye.

This is common in online dating where there are fewer mutual connections and therefore fewer social consequences for dropping out of someone’s life, leading to hurt and confused feelings.

People who ghost are trying to avoid their own emotional discomfort, instead of having an honest conversation about how they feel, i.e. "I don’t think this is working out" . But being on the receiving end is like a texting purgatory because the recipient doesn’t know whether to follow up with a text or leave things be.

Molecule structure.

If someone you’ve been texting reaches out and you’re no longer interested, practice compassion and let them know you’re no longer interested. Be a human, not the spectre of one.

In business, good customer service requires responsiveness . Your business may not operate 24/7, but some of your customers will. An out-of-office reply lets your customer know that their message hasn’t disappeared into a vacuum.

2
Thou shalt not be impatient

On the converse side of ghosting, our instant gratification culture means we crave instant responses. Many consider it rude to have to wait more than 20 minutes for a text reply , and read receipts serve to heighten this impatience.

Brain with a clock.

But the convenience of texting and messaging lies in the freedom to answer whenever it suits you. That's why it's important to be patient with your texting partners.

Although most of us have our phones glued to our hands, text messaging is still an intrusion into our lives. Double-texting (sending a follow-up or multiple texts) when the sender doesn’t reply, can breach social boundaries.

It's helpful to remember that we are not at the centre of anyone’s world. The sender may be engaged in any number of activities which constitute daily life, some of which require our undivided attention, e.g. driving.

It is also worth bearing in mind that text messages are not always instantaneous. Your geographical location, network traffic and carrier issues can contribute to delays .

If it's an urgency or emergency you do, of course, need an immediate response. In those times, you'd do better to pick up the phone. Would you text 911 if you had an accident or were in the middle of giving birth?

When you're texting customers, realize that unless you've asked them a question, it's perfectly normal for them not to respond to your message. There is no reason to send out one of those automatic messages stating that "We assume to have answered your question and will now close this ticket."

3
Thou shalt not text an essay

We’ve all waited anxiously at the end of the blinking ellipsis while the sender appears to add yet another thought. However, the longer we wait, the less receptive we are at hearing what the sender has to say.

A blue book.

Text messaging, by nature of its character limit, is intended for concise messages. Therefore, if a longer message is required, phone or email is more appropriate.

Send text messages to confirm if Joe will be picked up after school or if the meeting can be moved back 30 mins. Save the essay for your next book :)

Also in customer communication it's best to aim for short and sweet. The shorter the message, the easier it is to digest .

4
Thou shalt not text at unsociable hours

Sleep texting is the act of texting while sleeping, which is usually prompted by the sound of incoming messages. Research shows that the blue light of our phones not only disrupts our sleep cycles , but also leads to a lower-quality rest when returning to sleep.

A pillow and a brain.

Before you forward the latest gossip about your colleague, pause and consider your recipient’s chronotype and time zone.

For commercial text messaging, it is not only etiquette, but illegal to disturb your customers in the middle of the night.

6
Thou shalt not send a "K" text

No other letter has the ability to annoy us as much as the letter "K". Although it says so little, it is open to misinterpretation.

Deemed as passive-aggressive, "K" implies you don’t care about the sender’s message. How much longer does it take to type out "okay" or "OK" anyway?

There’s little doubt that texting makes us communicate more efficiently by abbreviating words and eliminating others entirely. Yet, sending a ‘K’ is akin to receiving an insult. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch offers the following reason for this:

Anything that’s shorter can sound curter, anything that’s longer can sound more polite.

In other words, shorter messages are more susceptible to the negativity bias .

Unless you’re hanging off the edge of a cliff, take the extra second to type out the full word and maybe add an emoji, so your recipient is not left seething.

It's also important to take the negativity bias into account when texting to customers. Although briefness adds to clarity, it can also be mistaken for rudeness. Try to make your messages short and sweet.

7
Thou shalt be explicit

One of the common causes of miscommunication arises from different mental models, i.e. the ways we perceive the world.

Two chat bubbles misunderstanding each other.

"No, sorry, I can’t make it" may sound like a polite excuse to the sender but sound like an abject dismissal to the recipient.

In delicate or professional situations, err on the side of caution. To communicate clearly, you can follow a what - so what - now what approach:

I’m sorry, but I need to cancel tonight. I’ve had a long day at work and could really do with an early night. How about I make it up to you on Saturday?

This example also includes the because justification . Adding a reason makes people much more likely to accept your message.

8
Thou shalt use emoji appropriately

The well-intentioned emoji is often misunderstood. A study by the University of Minnesota attributes this to the following reasons:

Different emoji fonts. All emoji are not equal. Due to different emoji font used by smartphone manufacturers, a “grinning face emoji with smiling eyes” can be perceived more negatively on an iPhone than on an Android device:

Infographic of grinning emoji being interpreted differently across platform devices.

Different interpretations. Even on the same device, the positive ratings of emoji don’t improve significantly.

Emojis are “at most, a linguistic tool that is being used to complement our language” , according to Keith Broni, the world’s only emoji translator.

Certain emoji are also understood differently across different cultures. While the “thumbs up” emoji indicate approval in Western countries, it is traditionally considered as offensive in the Middle East.

Despite the lack of consensus, emoji-free communication is still perceived as unfriendlier . In business, emoji not only convey the tone of a message but also have an impact on likability and credibility . In other words, people are more likely to do business with you if you use emoji.

The key here is to not use the full spectrum of emoji and stick to the ones which are relatively free of misinterpretation. Very few people want to spend their time solving emoji equations to understand a text message. We recommend a minimalistic emoji approach. And when you're communicating with an international customer base , it's best to avoid hand gesture emoji altogether.

9
Thou shalt check spelling/grammar and autocorrect

Bad spelling and grammar are deal-breakers in dating, according to a Zoosk survey . Mistakes such as confusing “they’re” or “there” indicate sloppiness or lack of attention, while more serious ones are, rightly or wrongly, attributed to lack of education.

This applies to autocorrect fails, even if the mistake is, technically speaking, not your fault. In business, such mistakes are not only humorous but can cost you a potential job.

Autocorrect helps us type more efficiently, but it is not always accurate. The QWERTY keyboard’s grouping of letters (e.g. the letter ‘p’ is above the letter ‘l’ ) and incorrectly saved entries means that correctly spelt words are changed into ones which cause embarrassment.

To avoid misunderstandings, it’s worth taking the extra minute to proofread before hitting ‘send’.

10
Thou shalt not overuse abbreviations

Once upon a time, texting was an excruciatingly slow process where you had to tap the number 6 twice to get the letter ‘O’. Abbreviations served to shorten texts and to save time.

A canned messages can.

As phones have evolved, this is no longer the case. Yet, obscure abbreviations/acronyms continue to emerge, e.g. IKYN (I kid you not). Never heard of it? Neither had I.

The problem with abbreviations is that not everyone understands them.

In business, too many abbreviations may alienate customers if they don’t understand them – with the exception of FYI (for your information) which is universally understood.

If you’re a heavy abbreviator, a text expander app like Typinator , saves you having to type out the full word by doing it for you when you enter an abbreviation.

If you’re texting your customers through a business solution like Userlike , there is no excuse for using abbreviations because you’re using a keyboard.

11
Thou shalt only text when in a clear state of mind

The only thing worse than a hangover is that drunk text you sent your partner what you think of them. Like Harry Potter’s Veritaserum , alcohol acts as a truth serum, leading to decisions which you may later regret.

A little bottle of poison.

Even in the absence of alcohol, texts are not an appropriate medium for expressing pent-up emotions. Tacking on emoji at the end of texts does not remove unconscious bias - the way we perceive different emotions. Throw in alcohol and emotions, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Many of us use texting messaging to avoid the discomfort of difficult conversations in person. It’s understandable if the other person is confrontational.

However, texting is an inadequate conflict resolution tool because it lacks the nuances of verbal communication (facial expressions, body language, tone). Difficult as it may be, pick up the phone or have that face-to-face communication when emotions have cooled off.

12
Thou shalt not text accidentally (on purpose)

The immediacy of text messages means we don’t often take time to check details, such as whether we’re texting the right person .

According to a survey by typing.com , 30% of respondents reported sending accidental texts about the person they were messaging about.

But are our texting gaffes really accidental or Freudian slips ? Sending a text to your boss saying how much you hate him, instead of to your colleague, may subconsciously be your resignation letter.

In business, misdialed numbers could have more serious implications, under GDPR , if sensitive information is revealed to the wrong person.

13
Thou shalt not text bad news

Ever received a text to say that you’ve been dumped? Or a text message from your client to confirm that your contract has ended? Then you will feel aggrieved that the sender did not pick up the phone.

Bad news is always hard to digest, but even harder when the sender fires off a thoughtless text which does not take into account what the recipients may be doing at the time, e.g. driving where the shock of bad news can have fatal consequences.

Opting for text to relay information about accidents, breakups or deaths can be perceived as a form of control because the recipient is left at the mercy of your message. This is because bad news has a greater effect on our emotional and psychological states than positive or neutral news.

Picking up the phone or a face-to-face meeting (if possible) is much more preferable and your recipient will be less likely to “shoot the messenger” . As a rule of thumb: the more negative the message, the more personal your channel of choice should be.

14
Thou shalt follow Hanlon's Razor

For harmonious text messaging, tolerance of different texting styles is required, which requires a dose of emotional intelligence. Not everyone is aware of texting etiquette. That doesn't mean they have bad intentions.

Although your initial knee-jerk reaction might tell you otherwise, it's best to assume miscommunication over malice .