Group chats have become the new way of communicating about a myriad of topics and situations, and inevitably this tool has thrown up a number of new etiquette dilemmas. What are the protocols for joining and leaving the chat? Should you ask before you add to the chat? How promptly should you respond to messages? How do you distinguish between private and public? Is it a good forum for airing grievances?
Our etiquette experts have been pondering the complexities of this communication tool, and have been looking at the ways in which everyday good manners, courtesy and consideration can be brought to bear to make the whole experience more civilised:
• Only use group chats to talk about topics that are relevant to everyone in the group. If you have something particular to say to one individual, message that person directly – you don’t want to force a whole group of people to eavesdrop on one-to-one conversations.
• Ask permission of the rest of the group before adding someone – you wouldn’t indiscriminately bring gate crashers to a close friend’s party, so don’t heedlessly impose your own friends on everyone else.
• Group chats are often used for making arrangements, so it is really helpful to answer promptly and not keep everyone in suspense about your availability. Everyone will see that you’ve read the message, so a non-response just looks rude.
• Always acknowledge messages; unless they involve a pressing question it’s acceptable not to respond immediately, but try to do so reasonably promptly, it’s only polite.
• Post your message in a single chunk of text; you’ll drive people mad if every sentence arrives as a new message with all the attendant, and distracting, alerts.
• If your phone is beginning to distract you from what you really need to do (for example, work), then just mute WhatsApp (no buzzing or beeping alerts when messages come in) and address the backlog later.
• If you’re really feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of messages you’re receiving, it might be a good idea to take some time out and send a message alerting people to your intended absence or non-availability (this is useful when you’re going on holiday too). That way, you won’t be reproached for your non-responsiveness.
• Keep an eye on your WhatsApp commitments and simply leave the groups in which you’re no longer interested – many groups are set up for time-specific purposes anyway, for example to arrange a hen night or a school event.
• If you’re in a group thread, participate. Nobody likes a silent observer who lurks around on the edges of groups at parties, listening and contributing nothing. You will definitely need to respond to group messages, or you’ll begin to look like a stalker.
• Adhere to the original purpose of the group. If it’s been set up by a gang of school-gate mums to facilitate making arrangements for their kids, it would be inappropriate to berate them with your latest political rants, requests to sign petitions, and links to news websites.
• Be careful about deluging the group with memes, adverts, promotions or system-slowing attachments. Unless the group is actually set up for this purpose, people will feel like they’re being spammed.
• Don’t be offended when people leave the group; think of it as comparable to a social event, when some people leave early because they have other commitments or are not particularly sociable, while others stay on until the bitter end. As long as departures are polite they’re completely acceptable.
• Don’t add someone to the group without asking them first. You would never unilaterally RSVP to social invitations on your friends’ behalf, you would ask them if they want to attend first. It’s no different with a WhatsApp group.
• Know your boundaries – before your message, think if what you are saying is for public consumption. There are lots of areas of our lives – financial, health, partnership – over which it is wise to exercise a little discretion, and which might be more appropriately divulged in a private message to a trusted confidant.
• Don’t share criticisms of other people with the group. While WhatsApp groups may feel like places to gossip and exchange confidences, your remarks don’t evaporate into thin air. They lurk around on people’s screens, and in their chat histories, a permanent reminder of your negativity.
• If you have a problem with a member of the group, never air your grievances in the group chat, which will cause no end of discomfort and embarrassment. Address your problem one-to-one with the relevant person.
• Don’t become a nuisance texter, bombarding your group with endless stream of consciousness messages, demanding replies, soliciting opinions. You need to respect the dynamic of the group – if it is a laid-back, occasional arrangement, your compulsive messaging will become oppressive.
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