Miscommunication happens often enough face to face. But it happens far more frequently over text messages. Alice was texting back and forth with her boyfriend when suddenly he went silent after a simple question. In the middle of a meeting, John received a three page text message from his ex-wife. Sandy accidently sent an intimate text message to the wrong person causing a series of awkward responses.

All of these misunderstandings could be avoided by following a few simple guidelines. Here are the top 15 texting rules:

  1. Know your audience. Don’t be more intimate over text messaging than you are in person. This is very confusing and sends the wrong impression. A person you just met should not be getting a text message that a best friend would normally receive. It is better for a relationship to progress in person first.
  2. Double check everything. Before the send button is pressed, reread the text message and double check the name of the recipient. Autocorrect has a way of changing the meaning of a simple message into something that is not intended.
  3. Text alone. It is rude to text another person while speaking to someone else; this is disrespectful to the person who is present. It is embarrassing to text while at a party; it makes you look like you have no friends. It is dangerous to text while walking or driving; people have died from doing this. It is frustrating to watch someone else text in a movie or concert as the screen light makes the message visible to everyone within close proximity.
  4. Texting is casual conversation. In the past when letter writing was the slow equivalent to texting, sending a “Dear John” letter was unacceptable. The same is true for text messaging. Don’t break-up, talk about death, or send threatening remarks. Texting is casual conversation only, not serious. It is never OK to send abusive text messages.
  5. Text response time. To avoid an uncomfortable moment, don’t open a text message unless you intend to respond immediately. Many people have “read receipts” on their devices and can see when you have read but not responded to a message. If a person takes days to respond, then you have days to get back to them.
  6. Always respond. Make it a point to respond to every text message to avoid sending a message of “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Even simple statements are good or an emoji. This is polite behavior and demonstrates respect for the person sending the message. Try your best to match the text lengths, this shows interest in the other person.
  7. Useful texting. When you are running late for a date, sending a text message is a great way of informing a person of what is happening. When you want to introduce yourself to a new contact, sending a quick text is ideal. When you need something from the store, a text message serves as an easy checklist.
  8. Non-useful texting. Over-using text slang with an older person who has to look up the meaning is annoying. Texting a thank-you note is impersonal. Don’t start a text chain that you don’t have the time to finish. Ignoring a phone call and then texting (unless it is to say you can’t talk at that moment) implies you don’t want to talk to that person anymore.
  9. Pictures are not secure. Texting or sexting a picture is dangerous. Photos are easily saved to a device and can be sent to anyone at any time in the future. Even among married couples this is not a good idea as sometimes the relationship ends in divorce and now the ex has compromising photos.
  10. Angry texting. When a person sends a text message in ALL CAPS, this is the equivalent to yelling at them. It is best to keep this type of communication to a minimum as screen shots of angry text messages make the person sending it look bad regardless of the content or context.
  11. Ending the texting chain. If you send two separate text messages and the person doesn’t respond, stop texting immediately. Don’t go on and on. This sends a message of desperation and might indicate that you care more about the relationship than they do.
  12. Transition to a phone call. If the texting becomes intense, heated, or serious, make a recommendation that the conversation be continued over a phone call instead of texting. Remember, texting is casual conversation and should not be used for complicated issues. If a phone call is not possible, consider using email instead.
  13. Texting is not confidential. A quick screen shot can be taken of any text message and sent to a third party. Private information can then be shared with anyone the recipient chooses. Making agreements or commitments via texting might even be used against a person legally (there is legal precedent for this in criminal cases).
  14. Demanding a response. There is no expectation that a person has to respond immediately to an initial text message. Those who demand such action are behaving in a controlling manner. There are countless reasons why a person can’t respond quickly.
  15. Don’t assume emotions. Unless someone clear states an emotion either within the text message or an emoji, don’t assume one. It is fine to inquire about their feelings but don’t read into a text message an emotional reaction. All too frequently the recipient projects their emotions onto the sender which creates unnecessary drama.

Use these simple guidelines to avoid poor communication via texting. Good communication skills can save a relationship and/or a job, reduce stress, promote harmony, establish trust, and overcome difficulties.