IM Etiquette: R U Good At It?

Etiquette for using instant messaging
Etiquette for using instant messaging

IM is horrible. Long live IM. Perhaps depending on when you were born, we all have different views of the value of Instant Messaging (IM). If you’ve ever worked as a part of a widely distributed team, then like me you probably realize that it’s anincredibly valuable tool — if used correctly. It turns out that that’s the rub — IM tools get installed on everyone’s desktop and then we’re all just left to our own devices to figure out the social rules associated with using them.

Perhaps it’s high time for us to discuss some of the do’s and don’ts around using IM. The don’ts are the easiest, so here it goes:

  1. Don’t copy/paste/forward IMs to other people not involved in the discussion: this is just poor form. An IM chat is assumed to be a private conversation between two or more parties. If you become known as a person who shares what was discussed in a private chat with others, then nobody is going to be willing to chat with you anymore for fear that you’ll share that chat with others. Small exceptions can be made for very technical instructions or such. Otherwise, summarize the other chat in your own words.
  • If you don’t want it to get around the office, then don’t say it in a chat: as the flip side to rule #1, if you’d be embarrassed to see what you wrote in a chat on the front page of your local paper, then it’s probably the wrong thing to put in a chat. The guys at Enron (yes, they all seemed to be guys) found this out when their IM records were put on the web as part of the lawsuits.

Let’s wrap up with some do’s:

  1. Do check your spelling: it’s just like you were told in 2nd grade — spelling and grammar both count. If I have to work to understand your IMs, then I’m probably not going to take the time unless you are my boss.
  • Do sign off from a chat: just stopping typing is a lousy way to let the other parties know that you’re done chatting. Instead, do like the police/truckers do — clearly communicate that you are done talking: “over & out” is my favorite. “Goodbye” works just as well.

So what are your IM etiquette lessons learned?