7 tips for effective communication using chat and text

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Studies show that text messaging is quickly overtaking calls as a means of communicating using mobile. Texting services (SMS or MMS), instant messaging apps and VoIP chats (Skype, Face Time, etc.) have become indispensable tools whether at home, school or work. However, while they’re fast and easy to use, they also have limitations.

Challenges with text messaging

  1. It’s hard to convey emotions or context – Miscommunication happens when you don’t understand the general sentiment behind a message. For example, short answers can come across as mean or uncaring when the sender might have been only in a hurry.
  2. No body language /no tone of voice – Facial expressions and tone of voice amplify the meaning of spoken words. This is why tone like sarcasm is hard to discern from a text.
  3. Can encourage bad grammar and spelling habits – We often use shortened words and no capitalization or punctuation especially for SMS. Also, many of us rely on auto-correct. Over dependence can encourage complacency and make us forget spelling rules.
  4. Delay-caused misunderstandings – Feelings can get hurt when we don’t get a response or a reaction to texts or posts immediately. We think we are being ignored.
  5. Technical difficulties – Our digital tools are dependent upon electricity, internet connection and mobile service.

How to communicate better in text

With text being essential in our daily lives, it is important that we overcome some of these challenges. Here are a few tips to help you make your messages clear, appropriate and pleasant:

  1. Use the appropriate medium

    Before you send the message, ask yourself if it’s appropriate to send via text. In general, text is considered as an informal and less personal medium. You wouldn’t tender your resignation or ask somebody to marry you using SMS. Another indication that texting may not the way to go is the length of the message. If it’s taking you more than 10 minutes to compose a response, you may be better off sending an email, calling or meeting the person.

  2. Think of your audience

    Always think about who you’re sending the message to and who will see your message. For example, you might want to stay away from social media slang, abbreviations or emojis if you’re texting your employer. If you are complaining or calling out someone, it will be better to send the message directly to that person in private (or speak to them personally). Do not broadcast it to everyone in your chat group.

  3. Don’t use all caps

    Using capital letters throughout is never appropriate in an SMS, chat message, social media post or email. Not only is it hard to read (we’re more used to reading lowercase text), it will look like you’re angry or shouting. It’s also a no-no on social media because it makes the poster seem hungry for attention or even a bit unhinged. Use all caps only for acronyms or for headings.

  4. Read and re-read before sending

    Bad grammar, wrong spelling and even auto-correct can make your text hard to understand. Make it a habit to read and check before sending. Also, verify if you’re sending your message to the right person. Remember, once you send an SMS you can’t get it back.

  5. Don’t assume

    Lack of context and emotion can make us paranoid. For example, if someone answers your long text with “k,” it’s easy to assume that they don’t think your message is important. This can make you mad. But what if the other person couldn’t compose a long text because their phone is about to die? Or if they are occupied but planning on writing a longer response later? If the meaning is not clear to you, don’t assume the worst. If you want to be sure, ask or call them.

  6. Etiquette always applies

    Keep in mind that respectful language is always the best way to go. This prevents misunderstandings and keeps your message clear. Consider the following:

    • Timing – Don’t text someone at 3:00 am and expect an immediate answer. If it’s about work, send it during business hours unless the message is extremely urgent.
    • Don’t be aggressive or gossipy – Fighting, gossiping or sharing confidential information reflects negatively on you. Remember that texts and posts can be saved. They can also be used against you.
    • Answer as soon as you can – If you can’t reply or give a message your full attention, reply with a message like “I’m tied up right now, I’ll get back to you” or “I’m sorry for the late reply, I was in a video call with a client.” Make sure to respond when you have the time.
    • Don’t make your texts too long.
    • Be sensitive to other cultures and how they might communicate differently.
    • Don’t keep texting while you’re talking to someone– It is rude and will seem like you’re not interested in their presence. If you truly must, warn people about it. Say something like “I apologize that I will have to keep on looking at my phone – I’m waiting for news about my wife’s condition. She was brought to the hospital this morning”.
  7. Never text while driving

    According to MPI, “one in three deaths involves a distracted driver”. This is why there are now stricter laws and penalties in Manitoba on texting and driving. If caught operating any hand-held device, not only will you get a fine, your licence will also get suspended. Read A quick guide to driving regulations in Manitoba to know more details.

Sources: How to avoid the communication barriers of chat and text, Tim Eisenhauer, Axero Blog; 7 things you need to know to text with good etiquette, Jacqueline Whitmore, Entrepreneur; and 18 unwritten rules of texting you should know, Sammy Nickalls, Lifehack. Accessed October 10, 2019.

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