i-think Twenty-Two

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Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette

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I’ve been getting progressively more and more annoyed at the use of Instant Messaging in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a fantastic way to get quick messages across to people and for communicating across boundaries (such as across the other side of the building), but I feel that there are a few rules that should be followed if Instant Messaging is going to be an effective form of communication.

1. If you want something or are asking a question put it in your first message.

Every time I am interrupted by an instant message that just says “Hi” or “Rhys” I scream a little inside. This “handshaking protocol” has broken my concentration and I am now trying to work out what the person wants. I can even see that they are feverously trying to type their actual message. Why waste my previous cycles by forcing me to process a single useless “header” and wait for the actual body. Send the header and the body at the same time!! As an example:

Hi Rhys, do you have time for a quick test review?

This message is concise, expresses the point and can easily be responded to, like so:

I’m busy. Go away.

Ok, in reality it would probably be more like this:


Or if I really am busy:

Can it wait? I am in the middle of something and should be ready in about 20 minutes.

2. Send complete messages

The last example leads us into the next rule, send complete messages. Don’t leave the recipient of your message guessing. Sure, you can’t answer all possible questions at once, but at least answer the most obvious ones. Empower the person you are communicating with by giving them the information they need to make a decision so that the conversation can end quickly.

3. Don’t let conversations drag on

If an Instant Messaging conversation is going on too long it is a good indication that the process has broken down. If possible it may be time to get up and speak to the person the old fashioned way. You’ll be able to get more information processed more quickly. If you can’t speak in person, use a telephone or if there is just a lot of information that you need to pass, write an email.

Final words

I’m sure there are more rules that could be applied, but I know that if everyone could follow the first rule I’d be much much happier.