Texting Etiquette 101: What to Avoid in 2022 – Natural Self Esteem

Lizzie Post once texted to check in on a friend with a new baby. The answer came late – a full year later.

Would her great-great-grandmother, prolific writer and titan of American etiquette Emily Post, be horrified? The younger Post says she doesn’t think so.

“I have a feeling that her personality would have been one that if you weren’t offended by the breakup, you would naturally welcome the reunion,” the younger post said. “If the disconnection offended you, either don’t respond or let someone know it was a problem. Either embrace it or let it go.”

Throughout her career in the first half of the 20th century, Emily Post has adapted her advice on etiquette to reflect a changing society, says the younger Post, who contributed to the 19th and soon to be 20th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette .” And that approach may be the only hope we have for making sense of text messages, the asynchronous phone messages that sustain much of our social and professional lives today.

Agreed-upon rules for proper copywriting have imploded amid a global pandemic, the proliferation of social media apps and the collapse of work-life boundaries. Search “texting etiquette” on Twitter and you’ll find a number of conflicting complaints – is it rude to leave a text message, or rude to expect a reply? Is the thumbs-up emoji passive-aggressive? Does an uppercase message require an uppercase reply? Generational differences make things even more difficult as teenagers move from literal to tongue-in-cheek emoji use, while our aunts continue to reply “OK.”

SMS has become our default means of communication, says Justin Santamaria, who led the development of Apple’s iMessage SMS service in the early 2010s. What might once have been a letter, voicemail, phone call, or email now often arrives in the form of an SMS—and this breakdown in contexts makes it difficult to know which rules to follow.

Wondering which SMS wisdom has survived the last few years? That’s what the experts told us. If you have texting rules you live by, send them to us at yourhelpdesk@washpost.com.

Think of group texts like a dinner party

Michelle Markowitz, co-author of Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails, a book on unusual group messaging, said she threw aside a lot of traditional texting wisdom. Gone is the “that should have been a phone call” thinking. (She loves to write and read long messages. Type a novella with your thumbs!). And she’s given up texting teenage relatives.

“It’s easier to find them on Instagram or anywhere else. They seem really alive there,” she said.

But some texting manners are here to stay, especially when it comes to group chats. At “Hey Ladies!” Markowitz and her co-author Caroline Moss examine the many ways group communication goes wrong. Group texts generate hundreds of notifications, they’re often filled with strangers, and these threads never go away. (I’m pretty sure I’m still in a group chat for my college theater production of Rent.)

How to keep your intimate, embarrassing or harmful text messages as private as possible

You wouldn’t invite a bunch of friends over to your house and introduce them, so don’t do that in a group text either, Markowitz said. Take a moment above to let everyone say their names and explain how they know each other.

If you need to iron something out with a specific group member, start a new texting conversation instead of making everyone read your back-and-forth.

When it comes to money, tread carefully. Planning a weekend getaway or a fancy dinner in group chat sounds like fun, but some recipients might squirm if they don’t want to shell out for the Michelin-starred farm-to-table extravaganza. When you’re at the top, make room for those who think differently, or give people a chance to propose alternatives or gracefully back down.

We’re done fighting over capital letters and punctuation

Sorry, advocates – that ship has sailed.

A good text makes sense to its recipient, but that shouldn’t require consulting an SAT grammar workbook, Markowitz noted. After years of reduced social contact, she is happy when someone gets in touch, even if her texting style is completely different from hers. Skipping capitalization or omitting a question mark does not indicate a lack of respect.

Millennials and Gen-Zers are no exception. It’s time we embraced the dreaded Gen X ellipses…even if it increases our fear…

Answers are not mandatory, but confirmations are nice

The past few years have been rough, and a growing number of text replies begin with “Sorry for the delay,” Post said. Remember, many texts get lost through busyness or brain fog, and if you really need an answer, send a kind follow-up.

On the other hand, keep in mind that unanswered texts worry some people, Post added. A quick message letting them know you’ve seen their message and will respond when you have time can ease some text-related woes.

Santamaria said he has a now-or-never approach to texting — once a message has been sitting for a while, it’s difficult for him to circle back. A simple smiley face or exclamation mark reaction lets the sender know they saw it and appreciated the thought, he said.

Warning: “Effects” in iMessage like “thumbs up” bubbles and spotlights can look strange if your recipient isn’t also using iMessage. It is best to avoid such effects in group chats.

Don’t be a wet SMS blanket

It is less important to hit a certain tone than to match the energy of your conversation partner.

Many of us have poured our hearts out over text to get an “OK” response. Repeatedly sending short replies like “thumbs up,” “lol,” or “k” might be okay if your recipient does the same, Post said, but it’s “immature” if you don’t keep up your part of the conversation. SMS is not Morse code – the goal is not to use as few words as possible.

Keep in mind that different generations have different levels of comfort when it comes to texting. Your grandma’s insistence on signing her name on every message may be unfortunate, but it’s no big deal. Try to avoid acronyms your recipient won’t understand, and have decency if your dad sends a wink.

The historic prohibition of “hey, can we talk” still applies, Markowitz said. Cryptic messages like “Call me please” or “What are you doing on Tuesday” make your recipients nervous because they don’t know what you’re about to ask, she said. Give them a hint so they can choose the best answer.

It’s okay to get serious

Delivering bad news — like a breakup or someone’s death — via text message is prohibited, the Post said.

But limiting text conversations to logistics and simple greetings is outdated. We rely on texting in so many contexts, Santamaria said, that it’s natural that we end up talking about our emotions. Sometimes he finds it easier to say serious things over text because he has more time to think.

Ask the helpdesk: Your private messenger may not be so secure after all

The rules of engagement are the same as when speaking over the phone or in person: prioritize listening and understanding over reacting. If you have trouble interpreting someone’s tone or understanding what they said, ask. The tone of reading in written communication is difficult, and it’s always okay to ask for clarification.

“When you’re having a serious conversation over text, it’s really important to understand if you really understand the intent of the person you’re having this conversation with and not let your emotions read into the words on the screen,” he said Santa Maria. “I think that’s a new skill that we’re all learning.”

Talk about texting limits in the workplace

Texting for business purposes has skyrocketed, Post said, but it’s still primarily a personal communication channel. Before you send a message to your co-worker or boss, make sure your team has discussed boundaries. What times of the day can you reply to text messages? Do you prefer an email or a phone call instead?

Once those boundaries are set, respect them—for others and for yourself.

“This mute notification button is doing God’s work,” Markowitz said. (To turn it on with the latest iPhones, pull down the menu in the top-right corner of your home screen. Tap “Focus,” then tap “Do Not Disturb”. On an Android phone, try swiping down to To see your notifications, swipe down the row of quick setting icons again to see the full list. Look for Do Not Disturb.)

Don’t text in important moments in the real world

When cell phones first became widespread, it was considered rude to use the phone in a public place like a grocery store, the Post said. Now we are much more relaxed. But it is all the more important to notice the moments when the people around you deserve your full attention.

Putting your phone away for meals, movies, performances, and chatting with loved ones is showing people you appreciate them.

“When someone says something important or heartfelt to you, something meaningful to them, when something terrible has happened, those are moments when you need to forget your phone and focus on them,” Post said. “Give them your best good listener, which means making eye contact, following the conversation, and asking questions.”

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