Chat Etiquette for the Online Workplace

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October 1, 2011

On-line chat started as an informal way of communication in the early days of the internet. As the web developed, we have gradually come to rely on emails, chat, and text messaging to keep in touch with our loved ones and relay crucial information to co-workers. As businesses come to utilize chat programs more frequently, it’s increasingly important that we understand how to keep our chat etiquette both effective and respectful.

On-line and mobile messaging serves as a digital breeding ground to bad habits. Being in a hurry combined with typing on the small, cramped keyboard of a mobile phone frequently leads to quick, oft-muddled abbreviated messages. Using shorthand forces the receiving party into deciphering the message’s true meaning, which can lead to miscommunications. While some may consider “omw 2 *$” (on my way to Starbucks) a pithy message to friends, it looks like the sender accidentally sat on his or her phone’s keypad and has no place in a professional business setting.

A common pitfall among both business and informal online chats is the use of sarcasm. While a wry comment can be hilarious in a face- to-face conversation, a sarcastic joke in a work chat runs the risk of your words being taken purely at face value. Without vocal inflection, online sarcasm requires your audience to accurately interpret it your message, and frequently they will not.

The goal of communication, whether through online chat or otherwise, is to successfully convey your meaning to the other person. Always err on the side of clarity if there’s any chance your audience may not understand. Nobody saves time by having to send additional messages to clarify the previous one. With your chat etiquette rooted in clarity and formality, your communication skills online will serve as a compliment to your communication skills offline.