The use of instant message, typically referred to as IM, can save a lot of time at work. Instead of walking over to someone’s desk, you can send them an online chat to get a quick response.
Despite its ease and quickness, professionals should still be mindful of basic etiquette rules when using IM in the office.
We spoke with Barbara Pachter, career coach and author of the book “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette,” to identify the most important online chat rules you should abide by.
1. You should know the person.
You need to have been introduced to the person before you IM them, says Pachter. So if you only know the person through social media but have never actually met them, you shouldn’t IM them.
“It would just seem strange if it were someone I didn’t know,” she says.
2. Start with a short greeting.
When starting a conversation with someone over IM, you should always say “hi” or “hello” and then check to make sure it’s a good time for them to chat. Otherwise, you may be interrupting them.
3. Be mindful of the receiver’s preferred style of communication.
This form of communication can be really disruptive for those on the receiving end, since the message pops up on their screens, says Pachter. You should always adjust your style of communication to meet the other person’s, whether they are colleagues, bosses, customers, or clients.
4. Keep the conversation short.
Ask yourself, will this message require the receiver to take time to think about their response? If yes, you might want to send an email or call them instead.
“IM is appropriate for interactions that only require a quick response,” says Pachter.
5. Be careful with abbreviations.
Similar to texting, it’s common to use abbreviations and shortcuts such as “LOL” (laugh out loud), “np” (no problem), or “u” (you) in an IM, but make sure the abbreviation you use is appropriate.
“People tend to use shortcuts on IM,” Pachter tells us. “Just make sure people know what you’re talking about if you use shortcuts.”
If you choose to use them, Patcher suggests only using those that are widely known, which the receiver would understand the meaning of. When unsure, the safest route is to type the entire word or phrase.
6. Never send bad news via IM.
IM is too casual a medium to have an important conversation, particularly one that’s negative. For example, you should not IM a colleague or employee that they have not been chosen for a project. It’s difficult to know what tone you’re giving off in a short message, so Pachter says it’s safer to stick to only neutral or good news when sending an online chat to people in your professional network.
7. Don’t change meeting times or venues in an IM.
If you’re going to change a meeting time or venue at the last minute, give the person a call out of respect, says Pachter. They may not check their computers before leaving to meet you.
8. Be aware of a status message.
Do not send someone an online chat if their status is “away” or “busy.” You may be disrupting their work by popping up in the middle of their computer screen.
9. End conversations with a short closing.
Once the conversation ends, say “thanks” or “thank you,” says Pachter. It’s rude not to respond.
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