Texting Do's and Don'ts

When and how to send (and not send!) text messages
April 2, 2014

Texting—quick, easy, less disruptive than a phone call—is one of the digital era’s greatest communications tools. But unchecked texting also has spawned rudeness, disrespect, unprofessional behavior and danger. So what are the guidelines for responsible texting? Check out these worthy do’s and don’ts.

• Don’t text when people are speaking to you; it’s impolite. MannersMentor.com calls texting the 21st century equivalent of passing a note in class. In business behavior, that’s the person who reads and responds to texts during a meeting, a major dis to the organizer and speaker. If big news is pending and you must monitor your phone and the earth-shaking news comes in—“Honey, my water just broke” or “We just lost the Wal-Mart account”—apologize, explain the urgency and leave. Otherwise, that text will wait.

• Do keep it short. MannersMentor.com says to limit yourself to 160 characters or fewer. If you need to write more, then an email or phone call is a superior communications medium.

On the other hand, don’t go crazy with abbreviations, Barbara Pachter writes in The Essentials of Business Etiquette, if the abbreviations aren’t well-known—LOL and OMG would qualify, not so sure about np (no problem) and IRL (in real life). Limit emoticons, too, which can make messages harder to read. (And besides, how many emotions do you really need in one message?)

• Do be cautious about sending group texts (or don’t send them at all). Group texts in effect share the cellphone numbers of all recipients. That opens them up to receiving unwelcome texts that will possibly be annoying and definitely be generating data on cellphone plans—and many consumers do not have unlimited data plans.

Texts are tone-deaf. There’s a tendency to seem harsher in texts (and emails) without the lilt of your lovely voice to soften the message. So do phrase your texts carefully, avoiding highly charged words such as failure, wrong or neglected, Pachter writes. Likewise, say please and thank you so you don’t seem pushy. And just as with email, don’t write in all capital letters, which can be interpreted as screaming.

• Don’t send bad news. Negative feedback should be given face to face or, a distant second choice, in a phone call. And it goes without saying that you show enough backbone to end a relationship in person rather than splitting via text (although these famous texted break-ups have been reported: Russell Brand dumping Katy Perry, Britney Spears bidding adieu to Kevin Federline, and John Mayer calling it quits with Jennifer Aniston).

• Do use other forms of communications for formal announcements, whether related to business or even personal announcements (engagements, births) unless texting—a decidedly casual medium—has been predetermined as the way to spread the word.

• Don’t continue sending more texts just because the recipient hasn’t replied. He or she is probably tied up; allow ample time for a meeting, commute or meal to end.

• Do be respectful of others’ schedules—in other words, don’t text at 3 a.m. just because you’re awake. The person on the receiving end may be asleep, and if his or her phone is still on, a text alert could awaken more than one person.

• Do double-check whenever you use smartphone features that convert your spoken words into a text message. “A lot can be lost in the translation,” Pachter warns. “Make sure that what you said is what is showing as text before you hit send.”

• Don’t send too many attachments. Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, recommends you text no more than one attachment or link. It’s not nice to clog someone’s inbox and block incoming messages from others. Multiple photos should be sent via email, which also offers a better viewing experience.

Low battery? Then don’t text, because you won’t be able to respond.

• Do clearly end your text conversations. It’s discourteous to leave the other person hanging.

• Don’t text in theaters. Everyone can see the phone light up and probably can hear it vibrate even if it’s muted.

• Do use your cellphone’s “off” button—in that theater, for instance. Most things can wait—and every message can wait if you’re driving. Pull over if you simply must check the contents of an incoming text. How serious is this transgression? Well, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if you read and send texts while driving, you’re about six times more likely to cause an accident than if you’re driving while intoxicated (your texting impairment is the equivalent of driving after four beers consumed in a short period). And even walking while texting can be dangerous: a New York teen stepped into a manhole while texting… but fortunately has recovered from her injuries.

Mobile manners, like table manners, are common courtesy, and sometimes we just need to put the phone down. Learn more about smartphone etiquette—because real life trumps e-life.

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