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The art of texting

THE WASHINGTON POST- Lizzie Post once sent a text message checking in on a friend with a new baby. The response came late – a full year later. Would her great-great-grandmother, the prolific writer and titan of American etiquette Emily Post, be horrified? The younger Post said she doesn’t think so.

During her career spanning the first half of the 20th Century, Emily Post adjusted her etiquette advice to reflect a changing society, said the younger Post, who co-wrote the 19th and 20th editions of the book Emily Post’s Etiquette. And that approach may be the only hope we have to make sense of texting, which now props up much of our social and professional lives.

Wondering what texting wisdom has survived the past few years? Here’s what the experts told us.

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 about off-the-rails group messages, said she’s tossed aside plenty of traditional texting wisdom. The “this should have been a phone call” thinking is over. And she’s given up on texting teenage relatives.

“It’s easier to find them on Instagram or somewhere. That’s where they seem truly alive,” she said.

PHOTO: ENVATO
PHOTO: ENVATO

But some texting manners are here to stay, especially when it comes to group chats. In Hey Ladies! Markowitz and her co-author Caroline Moss mine the many ways group communication goes awry. Group texts spawn hundreds of notifications, they’re often filled with strangers, and those threads never go away.

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

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

When it comes to money, tread lightly. Planning a weekend getaway or fancy dinner in the group chat sounds like fun, but some recipients might be squirming if they don’t want to shell out for the Michelin-starred farm-to-table extravaganza. If you’re at the helm, create space for dissenters or give people a way to suggest alternatives or gracefully back out.

WE’RE DONE FIGHTING OVER CAPITAL LETTERS AND PUNCTUATION

Sorry, sticklers – this ship has sailed. A good text makes sense to its recipient, Markowitz noted. After years of reduced social contact, she’s happy when someone reaches out, even if their style of texting is totally different from hers. Skipping the capitalisation or leaving off a question mark doesn’t denote a lack of respect.

Millennials and Gen-Zers aren’t exempt here. It’s time we embrace the dreaded Gen-X ellipses… even if it makes our anxiety spike. Responses aren’t mandatory, but acknowledgements are nice

The past few years have been hard, and a growing chunk of text responses begin with “sorry for the delay”, Post said. Keep in mind that plenty of texts get lost to 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 make some people feel worried, Post added. A short note letting them know you saw their message and will respond when you have time can alleviate some text-related suffering.

Santamaria said he has a now-or-never approach to texting – once a message has sat a while, it’s tough for him to circle back. A simple smiley face or exclamation point reaction lets the sender know he saw it and appreciated the thought, he said.

Beware: “Effects” in iMessage like thumbs-up bubbles and spotlights can get weird if your recipient isn’t also using iMessage. It’s best to avoid those in group chats.

DON’T BE A TEXTING WET BLANKET

Striking some particular tone is less important than matching your conversation partner’s energy.

Plenty of us have poured our hearts out over text to get “ok” in response. Repeatedly sending short responses like thumbs up, “lol” or “k” might be fine if your recipient does the same, Post said, but it’s “immature” if you’re failing to hold up your end of the conversation. Texting isn’t Morse code – the goal is not to use as few words as possible.

Keep in mind that different generations have different comfort levels with texting. Try to avoid any shorthand your recipient won’t understand, and have grace when your dad sends a winky face.

NO SCARY MYSTERIES

The historical ban against “hey can we talk” still holds, Markowitz said. Cryptic messages like “call me please” or “what are you doing on Tuesday” make your recipient nervous because they don’t know what you’re going to ask, she said. Give them a clue so they can choose the best response.

IT’S OKAY TO GET SERIOUS

Delivering bad news – like a break-up or someone’s death – over text is verboten, Post said.

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

The rules of engagement are the same as in phone or in-person conversations: Prioritise listening and understanding over reacting. If you’re struggling to interpret someone’s tone or understand what they said, ask. Reading tone in written communication is hard, and it’s always okay to ask for clarification.

“When you’re having a serious conversation over text, it’s really important to understand whether you truly get the intent of the person you’re having that conversation with and not letting your emotions read into the words on the screen,” Santamaria said. “I think that’s a new skill that all of us are learning.”

TALK ABOUT WORKPLACE TEXTING BOUNDARIES

Texting for business purposes has skyrocketed, Post said, but it’s still a personal communication channel above all. Before you fire off a message to your employee or boss, make sure your team has talked about boundaries. Once those boundaries are set, respect them – for others and yourself.

“That ‘mute notifications’ button is doing God’s work,” Markowitz said.

DON’T TEXT DURING IMPORTANT REAL-WORLD MOMENTS

When cellphones first became widely available, it was considered rude to talk on the phone in a public place like a grocery store, Post said.

Now we’re much more lax. But that makes it 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 conversations with loved ones shows people you value them. – Tatum Hunter

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