You get a text. Should you respond right away? Can you wait a bit? When do you cross the line into rudeness? Helloooo?
Texting is a topic that etiquette experts Elaine Swann and Diane Gottsman are asked about frequently.
“It is efficient, it is easy and it’s timely,” Gottsman says of the popular way of communicating. “The drawback is that what is important to one person may not be as important a response to another person. Or they may not have their phone.”
Both say the appropriate response time depends on what the text is about. Time-sensitive messages should be answered as soon as possible, while you have more time for nonurgent ones. But not that long.
Gottsman, speaking “from a polite factor” believes you should respond within a day. “That sounds like a very long time for some people but we all have busy lives.”
Swann adds in an extra day of cushion.
“After the 48-hour mark, if you really haven’t said anything at all and someone asks you a question that needs an answer, then that’s where you’re starting to get into … rudeness or inconsideration,” she says.
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But even etiquette experts get bogged down. Swann shares she didn’t reply to a text received one Saturday until the following Thursday, as the message got buried in her inbox.
“That was a long time,” she admits, “but the question she asked me required quite a bit of thought and insight. So, I needed to take my time … and when I responded she greatly appreciated it because my response was thoughtful.”
Swann was sure to begin her response with “I apologize for the delay,” a short and sweet apology, which she says suffices. “You don’t need to go into detail. Sometimes we delay responding because we think we need to come up with an excuse. And we don’t want to lie, and then we want to make sure that if we do lie, we’re covering it up and all of that.”
When the situation is reversed, and you’re the one waiting on a text, Swann advises “your follow-up can be as soon as you need it.”
Gottsman believes in giving recipients “parameters” to proactively set the exchange up for success and warns against making assumptions.
“I think that when we don’t hear from somebody, we start to fill in the blanks and make up our own story, and we don’t always draw the picture accurately,” she says. “We don’t know what’s happening on the other end.”
When you need a response to something important, consider using other forms of communication like calling or email, Gottsman says.
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But what if the messages are more casual in nature, sent to someone you’ve gone on a few dates with, for example, that have been left unanswered?
Gottsman believes you should “Take that as an indicator.”
She and Swann knock ghosting, the act of disappearing from a relationship of a romantic nature with no explanation. Swann calls it “the opposite of using proper manners.”
“A lot of times people think that etiquette is really about evading the truth, or evading what you really have to say and my answer is that is not so,” she reasons. “Etiquette is really about being respectful and honest with individuals and speaking your truth.”
And part of being respectful is understanding “top priority” should be given to the people you are physically with – at the dinner table, at work, at events in the real world – she says.
“If you’re within a group of people, or out on a date or whatever it is, just be mindful of who you’re with. You can always, always wait until later to respond to a text,” Swann says.