When Did Communication Etiquette Get So Complicated?

(10 minute read)

Good manners are important to me. I taught my children to say “please” and “thank you” before they took their first steps. I have been told the complement every parent loves to hear, “Your kids are so polite.” Recently it was brought to my attention from my well-mannered children that my communication etiquette was in need of improvement. They were specifically referring to my text messaging. 

WTF? IMHO IDK what they mean B/C I try to understand the texting world. #confusing BTW IMHO texting instead of picking up the phone and calling seems to be the problem. LOL 

When did communication get so complicated with inconsistent rules? Always, no never, use a period at the end of a texted phrase. It is rude. Better to use an exclamation point, it expresses excitement! In school I learned that it meant shouting or angry. And I thought a response of “sure” meant I was being agreeable, not that I was showing I did not care. You can imagine my surprise when my son asked me if I was mad when my texted response to his question of “Let’s watch a movie tonight?” was “sure.” Urban Dictionary says “sure” is the worst response to a yes or no question. What? Here I was smiling and feeling happy about the idea, “sure” meaning “sounds fun, super idea.” My daughter recommended I at least put a happy face emoji after my “sure” to communicate my gleeful response more clearly.

Communication has gone through changes over my lifetime, as have the appropriate guidelines when using the communication devices. Growing up in a household with three sisters, I remember our family phone etiquette. The telephone would ring loudly from the kitchen. We would race to answer it. If the call was for me or my sisters we would drag the heavy rotary phone as far away as the cord connecting it to the wall would stretch. Around the corner, into the powder room, or even into the closet. Anything for some privacy, before being interrupted and told by a sister to “Hang up, I am waiting for a call!” There were marks on the wall from our heels and fingerprints on the powder room mirror as we chit chatted away with friends (or boyfriends). If the call was not for us, we followed instructions for telephone etiquette.

“Hello? May I ask who is calling? Just a moment, please.” Place hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, “Mom, telephone for you. It’s Mrs. Peterson.” Only on rare occasions did we lapse in manners and shout, “Mom, mom, maaaa-ummm, it’s for you!” In the event that the person was not home we also took messages on the pink pads of “While You Were Out”squares. We were polite telephone answerers, as well as callers. “Hello Mrs. Weinstein, this is Carolyn Papini, may I please speak with Emily?”

Several changes impacted telephone communication: cordless phones, call waiting, and voice message machines (or voicemail). The first one is obvious, cordless phones were amazing because you could take the phone almost anywhere within range. No more dragging the telephone outside when we were sunbathing to be the first caller on KFRC to win the contest. Returning the cordless phone to its base was an important rule. Call waiting meant you never missed a call, and on the flip-side you could always call someone without hearing a busy signal. However, the ringing phone that never gets answered could sometimes be frustrating for the caller. Then the wonderful invention of the voice message machine. I remember recording, “You have reached the Papini house, please leave a message after the beep,” or something more clever. What is more clear in my memory is walking into the house and seeing the blinking light. “You have 8 messages. Messages played back…” then one after the other the callers’ recordings would play.

Here is where etiquette gets tricky. When do you call them back? How long before it appears you are being rude? If you have left a message on a recorder, is it ok to leave additional messages? We have all been on both ends. Then at some point emailing became popular outside of business, so then what was the polite thing to do? Emily Post said that you must always respond, even if means a rapid fire response to give more time. The exception to this rule is if you are in an emotional state; write the draft, save it and read the next morning before deciding to send. She says voicemails should be returned within a timely manor (24 hours max), and if leaving a voicemail she says to keep it brief. In general, I have adhered to these guidelines for good manners. Perhaps the lapse in response time to emails may be my downfall. My rationale is that I want the time to give a more thoughtful response. Emily Post would probably suggest a quick, “Got it, Mom. Will respond in more depth later. Love you!”

For the record, I am referencing Emily Post, but I realize she died in 1960 at the age of 86. She wrote the definitive guide to manners. Her family, through multiple generations, has continued to advise on social, business and wedding etiquette. In fact they just celebrated one hundred years of providing guidance on treating others with respect and kindness. The tips and information on building good relationships has changed with the times. I love that I can still Google an etiquette question and be directed to emilypost.com. In order to tackle the topic of texting manners I thought it would be smart to consult two of my other wise bloggers: lifehack.com and grammarly.com

Rather than list out all of the rules of text messaging “politely” (which feels like an oxymoron), I am going to specifically list the ones that I apparently needed to be reminded of.


  1. Slow response time to a text can be impolite, so can sending multiple texts when someone has not yet responded to your text. The exception is a text that needs no reply (ie. On my way).
  2. Use emojis to convey your emotion clearly, at the END of the text, and punctuate with intention (a period can come across as rude, whereas an exclamation point shows excitement).
  3. Respond proportionally and appropriately. Meaning not too long, and the right GIF, meme, or emoji for your audience.
  4. Be careful to check that you are sending to the right person or group, and reread your message before hitting send (autocorrect and dictation can come up with some crazy wording).
  5. While liking a text with a heart or a thumbs up might be you expressing gratitude, love or happiness, do not get in the habit of this “reaction” texting. It is equivalent to a head nod in person. Imagine how weird it would be if after someone says “I really liked having lunch with you, today” you simply nod your head. 

Those are the reminders I came up with for myself so that I can communicate clearly, respectfully and kindly. If I was going to add any other texting infractions I see people out there doing, it would be these: Do not text while you are face to face with someone, don’t text or read texts while you are at the movies, don’t bury your head in your phone texting while walking, and DO NOT text or read texts while driving.

This blog topic came up from a recent exchange with my daughter. She texted me that she would like to get dinner together one night this week. I “heart” liked her text. That was it. I thought nothing of it. If I had texted a message it is very likely it would have been, “sure.” So basically my daughter expressing to me that she was wanting to spend time with me got responded to with a head nod. If you know me, as GrizzlyBearMa, smothering-with-love-and-attention kind of mom, you would understand the disheartening disconnect I am having with communication through text messaging. I am working to understand the nuances of word choice and punctuation. The more I read about the variations of interpretation of punctuation or acronym usage, the more confused I am. It seems that text messaging etiquette varies between age groups, gender, in the personal or business settings, and is always changing. Bottom line: Intended messages can be misinterpreted.

I wish I could be more helpful to you, my blog followers. It is my goal to impart useful information along with my stories of family and farm life. Clear communication with good manners is what we want. When in doubt throw some emojis at the end of your text message. Better yet, use the microphone to record an audio message; there is no chance your “sure” will be mistaken for ambivalence.


  1. Great post Carolyn! You have me thinking about some funny memories regarding my childhood. Our family telephone was connected to the kitchen wall, so my siblings and I had to stretch the cord as long as it would go to talk out in the garage if we wanted any privacy. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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