Julian-Inspired Rules for Texting
Let’s talk about text etiquette. When we posted on LinkedIn about 10-year-old Julian demonstrating superior text etiquette, we never expected it would get that many views. But then again, why wouldn’t it? If we noticed a kid had more savvy than most adults, a lot of other adults would notice that too. We’re all texting our friends, partners, clients and kids more than ever. And we’re probably all running into misunderstandings, miscommunications, and maybe full on conflict just because of a text conversation gone wrong! So we did some research. Which means we took note of random complaints about text messaging and then we asked our teenagers over dinner how they “do” texting.
The Perfect Pitch study on Text Etiquette is random, nowhere near double-blind, and will never be peer reviewed. But no matter. Some of the most valuable pearls of wisdom come out of dinner conversation with the kids and “pouring your heart out moments” with friends and family. Here are the “rules” folks!
- Exit like you would in a face to face, with a goodbye: if you are in an “active” conversation, back and forth three to four times, my teenage son tells me you have to officially sign off before disappearing into the ether. It’s considerate. This is more important when the person is someone close to you like your romantic partner, your child, an important client, or your boss. My son is actually good at this. He just types “Got to go.”
- Past behaviour creates expectations, respect that: My youngest son knows to call me when he gets home if he’s alone and he, in return, expects me to pick up. That’s an expectation that’s been set. If I don’t hear from him, I’ll worry. If I don’t pick up, he will. Same goes for texting. If you normally text someone at certain times, or within certain times, know that they will wonder why they haven’t heard from you. Let the storytelling begin. You can preempt this by taking 20 seconds to let that person know you won’t be in touch.
- Over-communicate feelings and attitudes: the human brain understands and interprets the world by making up stories to explain the data it encounters. A text message is raw data (just words on a screen) and raw data is lousy at communicating feelings and attitudes. So the person at the other end of your text message is making up a story. They can’t help it. They have a human brain in their head and that brain is guessing at your tone of voice and even your body language while it’s taking in the words. If a situation requires a clear indication of a feeling or attitude, type that feeling or attitude out in the text message or, if the relationship is not a professional one, use emojis
- Better yet, pick up the phone: if a situation is going sideways, use the 40 seconds it would take you to type out a message to quickly phone the person and clear up the misunderstanding. You can talk more later but making even a short phone call lets the person know two things: 1) they’re important enough to you to warrant the call and 2) you didn’t mean what they thought you meant in the text. This rule is so important. While teenagers are completely mystified by the need for a phone function at all, adults still appreciate the voice to voice contact. If a relationship is important to you, act like it is. Pick up the phone.
- Ask questions if you want a conversation, don’t ask them if you don’t: be aware that sending a text that doesn’t include a question about the other person can communicate that you don’t want the conversation to continue. If that’s your goal, go for it. If it’s not, don’t be surprised if the receiver finds your texting one-sided or dismissive. My teenage son, for example, rarely asks questions unless he wants the car or money. It’s understood so we’re good.
- Banish the “eye-roll” and “mocking” emojis from your text repertoire: sarcasm on text messaging? Unless you know the person really well, we’re not fans of this. Emojis that show eye rolling or that annoying wink with a tongue lolling out? Why are you trying to be contemptuous or snide on text messaging? Tread carefully and take an extra 10 seconds to think about how your emoji will land. That’s usually all it takes to stay out of the boiling cauldron of text misunderstanding. A quick survey of the young ones reveals they don’t use these at all. It’s all of us 40 and 50-somethings that are messing this one up.
- If you receive a text that rubs you the wrong way, ask a question to clarify: chances are the person who sent you that text had no idea it would land wrong. The benefit of the doubt works best. Send a text to clarify that’s what they meant, or let them know how it landed, and ask them how they meant it to land. Better yet, see rule #4.
- Don’t text when you’re with someone else unless it’s an emergency: you are telling the person you are with they are not important to you. Joe Beef restaurant owner, David McMillan, has four rules to be a good dinner guest or companion: never look at your phone, keep your elbows off the table, come with stories to tell, and don’t drink too much. We love all of the rules and the first is so important. Actions speak louder than words and in this case, ignoring the person you are with, even for a second, speaks volumes.
We would have loved to have three rules because we love threes but these are the ones we wanted to share and we’re hoping you’ll post some comments and share more! Thank you, Julian, 10-year-old texter extraordinaire, for inspiring this post.