Texting Etiquette 101: How to Write Polite Texts in Personal and Professional Relationships

Group of friends sitting outside and texting.

Texting is the preferred form of communication of this generation, with 75% of American millennials and Gen Z saying they prefer texting over talking on the phone. While most people have a strong handle on how to communicate politely over phone calls, emails, and in-person conversations, texting has evolved quickly. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know how best to respond to someone.

Texting is a convenient and fast way to connect with your friends, family, and even your colleagues. But without some thought behind how you text, recipients can misinterpret the short messages. They don’t have the context that your voice, facial expression, or gestures add to other types of conversations. In fact, only 7% of communication depends on the actual content of what you say.

Let’s take a look at some texting etiquette best practices to help you navigate personal and professional relationships via SMS.

What Is Texting Etiquette?

Texting etiquette refers to the rules for engaging with others in a polite way over messaging. These rules are often left unspoken, but if you don’t know about them, you risk offending the recipient, whether they’re a loved one or another professional. This guide aims to help you politely (and authentically) message with your friends, family, and colleagues.

Texting Etiquette for Friends and Family

You might find it strange that there is such a thing as texting etiquette for your loved ones. There is, but it’s a lot more relaxed than texting etiquette for coworkers. The goal of using texting etiquette with your inner circle is all about making sure you’re sharing information clearly and avoiding confusion.

Content: What to Text Loved Ones

Texting has become a proxy for phone calls in many ways. That doesn’t mean you should use texting as a one-size-fits-all communication channel. Instead, you should:

  • Deliver big news on phone calls. Important news, like your best friend’s engagement, or the death of a beloved uncle, shouldn’t be announced via text. If you can’t share important news face-to-face, do it via a phone call. This makes it easier to fully engage in the conversation.
  • Keep complex conversations off SMS. Texting can lead to miscommunication. After all, 58% of communication is through body language, 35% through vocal tone, and only 7% through actual content of what you’re saying. Consider moving heated chats to in-person interactions or phone conversations so there aren’t any miscommunications.
  • Think about your relationship before you text. When you’re not face-to-face, you’re more likely to say things that you wouldn’t say in real life. This is called the online disinhibition effect. Before you send a combative comment, consider whether you’d say it in real life.

Considering the content of your texts carefully helps you maintain happy, healthy relationships with your loved ones.

Details: How to Text Loved Ones

How you deliver your messages to friends and families is important. You want them to understand what you’re saying. You should:

  • Avoid abbreviations with certain family members. Keep who you’re texting in mind. Will grandma understand TTYL or FML? If not, save those abbreviations for your friends.
  • Use emojis with nearly everyone. Emojis work well when you’re texting most of your loved ones. They add a visual element that quickly communicates the emotions and expression behind your message. Save simple emojis, like smiley faces, for older family members, and complex emoji sequences for friends.
  • Add GIFs whenever you’d like. GIFs add levity to a conversation, and when chosen well, communicate a clear idea or state of mind. Feel free to use them to spice up any text conversations. (Though remember that your recipients need MMS to receive GIFs, unless you’re using a messaging service like Facebook Messenger.)

 

Misspell a word or choose to leave off a period in a text to a loved one? That’s fine. You’re texting people who know you well; there’s no need to nitpick every text to them.

Timing: When to Text Loved Ones

It’s appropriate to text your loved ones at the same times of day that you would call them. After all, texts often make notification sounds on their phones, and you wouldn’t want to disturb them at odd hours. For example, if you wouldn’t call your grandmother at midnight, don’t text her then. If you wouldn’t call a new friend at seven in the morning, don’t text him then.

There are exceptions to the rule. If you know that your best friend has her phone on silent overnight, you should feel comfortable texting her whenever you’d like and knowing she’ll see that message when she wakes up in the morning.

Response Speed: How Quickly to Respond to Loved Ones

Response time etiquette changes frequently for SMS. Right now, the consensus between experts is that you should respond within a day or two.

Of course, you should gauge your response speed based on:

  • Message content. If the sender of the text is asking a timely question, send a response quickly. For example, if they’re asking you about seeing a movie that evening, respond as soon as you check whether you’re available.
  • Message sender. Your best friend may be fine with you waiting a few hours to reply, but holding off on responding to someone you’ve started dating may make them worry. In general, the newer the relationship, the faster you should respond.
  • Your current situation. If you’re in the middle of something—class, a movie, a rough day—you should hold off on texting. At the end of the day, everyone understands that you’re not glued to your phone. Take the time you need to respond.

If you do end up taking more than a day to respond, let the sender know why there was a delay. If they’re friends or family, they’re sure to understand.

Texting Etiquette for Colleagues and Coworkers

You see your colleagues—or interact with them in some format if you work remotely—nearly every day. There’s a good chance you exchanged phone numbers, since it’s such a convenient way to communicate. This texting etiquette section will help you keep your communications professional. If you message with Slack or a similar platform, the same etiquette applies.

Content: What to Text Colleagues

As a rule of thumb, you message as if your texts are being monitored by your company’s HR department, like they might monitor your Slack channel. After all, in an unfortunate situation, your texts could be shown to HR by a team member—and employee-sponsored phones can be monitored.

Keep texts work-appropriate just like you would during in-person chats at your workplace. Don’t talk about anything that might be perceived as unprofessional. Feel free to ask how your colleague’s weekend was, and go ahead and share that picture of your cat’s 11th birthday party. But avoid mentioning, say, that really fun party you went to but somehow can’t remember.

Instead, use texting to communicate deadlines, let coworkers know you’re running late, or bounce ideas off close team members. Use it to keep up a connection with your team beyond meetings or your shift, being yourself while staying professional.

Details: How to Text Colleagues

You’ve got to consider how to deliver your messages, too. This is one of the most important aspects of texting etiquette with colleagues. While you can get away with misspellings and grammatical errors with your loved ones, you want to appear professional with your colleagues. You should:

  • Check texts for accuracy before you send them. You don’t have to proofread texts to family and friends, but with colleagues it’s another story. Make every effort to use correct grammar and spelling. If you’re texting a close team member, you may use more casual punctuation (for example, leaving off periods). If you’re messaging a senior team member, you may want your text to read more like an email.
  • Use abbreviations with team members who will understand them. Again, consider your audience. Your coworker who’s the same age as you will probably understand your favorite acronyms easily. Your boss? Hold off until she consistently uses them first.
  • Include emojis in conversations with close team members. Emojis can brighten work conversations. Again, you may want to avoid using them around senior team members, but that depends on your work culture. If you notice senior team members using emojis in your company messaging channel, like Slack, you may consider using them in texts.
  • Realize that GIFs are even more casual than emojis. Limit GIF use to texts with close team members who have a similar title to yours. Even though they can help underline a point, they can be seen as even more casual than emojis.

Ultimately, it’s important to consider the formality of your work relationships while you text. Avoid texting casual messages to people with whom you have a more formal relationship.

Timing: When to Text Colleagues

Now more than ever, it’s likely that you’re trying to maintain a good work-life balance. Even if you’re close with your colleagues, the act of texting them may remind them of work, and vice-versa. Consider limiting your texting hours with colleagues to your official working hours. If you’re very close with a team member, you may consider communicating while you’re doing work-related tasks. For example, you might text while you’re getting ready for work or while you’re riding transit to and from work. As a rule of thumb, don’t text them earlier than your pre-work routine or later than you would have a post-work gathering.

Response Speed: How Quickly to Respond to Colleagues

Again, the consensus between experts is that you should respond within a day or two to texts. That’s a little tricky when it comes to texting colleagues. You should not feel pressured to answer coworkers on the weekend. During the week, however, you may want to consider answering texts by the end of the workday. Again, responding to a text after a few days with a quick explanation (especially if you’re texting a higher-up) is a good best practice.

Successfully Texting Friends, Family, and Coworkers

There are differences between how to politely text with loved ones and colleagues. With help from these tips, you should be able to avoid confusion, communicate clearly, and have authentic chats that strengthen the bonds between you and your loved ones or colleagues.

 

Now that you know the right etiquette for personal and professional relationships, here’s how to text customers or business partners.

Sophia Huneycutt
Sophia Huneycutt is Heymarket's lead writer, producing everything from articles to eBooks. She works closely with Heymarket's product and customer service teams to help convey the latest business texting best practices. A B2B technology writer since the mid-2010s, Sophia has also worked with brands like Microsoft and Indiegogo. Her dying potted plants wish she'd stick to writing in her spare time, too.
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