At any given moment, we are having up to a dozen conversations simultaneously. A couple open-ended text conversations here. Countless Facebook messages there. Google Hangout chats. Phone calls. Even the occasional face-to-face conversation. With all these communication outlets come different sets of unspoken rules that we learn over time.
Rules of Conversation
Engaging in conversation with someone is a balancing act. Above all, show respect to those you are speaking with. There are a few ways to do this. First, actually listen to what others are saying. Look into their eyes and ask questions about what they're talking about. I like to add in an "uh huh" here and there to signify that I understand and am following the story. Once they finish their thought, comment on what they said then add your own piece to the conversation. They key here is to let them finish before starting a new thought. Interrupting shows that you are either rude or disinterested. Or usually both.
Rules of Texting
Text messaging was born 20 years ago and didn't gain much traction until just 15 years ago. Because of this, the platform's etiquette is constantly shifting. Here are a few rules that I try to stick to while communicating via text:
- Respond in a timely manner. This varies depending on the topic, person, and time of day. If a friend is texting me while I'm at work, I'll be slower to reply than if we're coordinating to meet at a certain place a few minutes from now. Generally, I try to reply within ten minutes at the longest.
- Use real words. Shortening words down to single letters was fun in high school, but that time has passed. "See you later" should never be "c u l8r." Unless you never want to hear from me again.
- Use some level of punctuation. Personally, I type out my texts as immaculately as possible, but you should at least separate sentences with periods to make the message legible. If you're able to sneak in an appropriate semicolon, I'll be extra impressed.
- Never LOL; instead, haha. The acronym, LOL, is finished. It had a good run and now it's time to pack its bags. Instead, a well-placed "haha" easily conveys your laughter, whether or not you're actually laughing. There's actually a range of ha's. A single "ha" is more of a sarcastic acknowledgement of a joke. A "haha" shows that you've enjoyed what was said enough for a chuckle. A "hahaha" shows that you might actually be laughing. Anything beyond that starts to feel maniacal. Hahahahaha!
- Emoji. These new symbols have quickly become ubiquitous, but doesn't mean you should be using them all the time. They are, in essence, cartoons after all. By using emoji, you're setting the tone for the message to be lighthearted and a bit silly. If you're texting an acquaintance, maybe hold off on the emoji. 💩
Guidelines for Facebook
Awhile ago I wrote a comprehensive guide on How to Not Suck on the Internet. In it, there are many tips on how to use social media in a valuable way. I'll paraphrase below:
- Only use hashtags that are actually a thing. On Thursday, if you must post this one cute photo of you from childhood, go ahead and #tbt all over it. But please don't write entire 'adjective sentences' using hashtags. #gettingtoooldforthis #getoffmylawn #grammarnazi #notactuallygerman #idohavealotofeuropeanbloodthough
- Post things that add value to the human race. A selfie of you driving to work early in the morning? No. A panorama of a beautiful sunset? Sure! An open discussion about what it means to be human? Absolutely!
- Keep the gossip-ridden complaints behind closed doors. Or, better yet, stop complaining in general! If you have something critical to say about something, try to back it up with logic and present ideas that could make it better.
- Don't fish for emotional support. Also known as vaguebooking, these posts are written to lure your supportive friends in. "Today is just the worst. I can't believe what is happening! I couldn't be more upset..." If you are in need of help, be explicit in the issue and what you need. If it's really personal however, leave it to private conversation.
- Be politically correct. If you get into a political, ethical, or religious debate, please show respect and use logic in your opinions.