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‘If my friend calls, can I just text back?’ — and other communication dilemmas

Even as we hold access to the world in the palm of our hand, the art of staying in touch has gotten way out of hand. And, sorry to ping you the bad news: it’s only getting more complicated.

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From emojis to email, we solve your most-pressing modern communications dilemmas.

From emojis to email, we solve your most-pressing modern communications dilemmas.

Ever fired off a text just to watch it hang, tauntingly, without response? Or stumbled on a time-sensitive Facebook message sent months ago? Do you wish everyone would just get with the program? The SAME program? “These days we flow from one app to another, motivated by FOMO and instant gratification from every new message,” says Renée Mellow, the London-based head of worldwide paid social at global media giant MediaCom. “It may not be healthy, but it’s widespread behaviour.” Here, Mellow lends her savvy to our most vexing communication etiquette conundrums.

How do you respond – or not – to after-work DMs and emails?
Is it urgent? Will leaving it hanging keep you up at night? Go ahead and respond. But seriously, try working on your boundaries. Institute mobile-free evenings – or at least keep devices out of the bedroom. “That way you are more in the moment,” says Mellow. “You can respond to that DM in the morning and it makes no difference.”

Do you have to call friends who leave you a voicemail, or can you respond with a text or email?
It’s okay to discourage callers with a text response, but don’t write off your phone just yet. Mellow is in favour of good, old-fashioned voice-on-voice catch-ups. “They’re the best way to keep in touch with my girlfriends. If they live far away, we schedule in advance at a time that works for both of us.”


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With everyone using different media, how do you organize a group event?
Regardless of how conscientiously you tackle the numbered red dots on your phone, some days you just want to streamline. The default for many remains Facebook Events, which automatically syncs to your calendar. Keep in mind, though, you need to need to RSVP properly for it to work. “I recently organized my son’s birthday party via Facebook,” Mellow says, “and missed a couple of people because they don’t use it often or forgot where the info was posted. Lesson learned!” For an alternative, Mellow says messaging tool WhatsApp is increasingly popular. “It seems to have crossed generations and borders,” says Mellow. Whatever your poison, hedge your bets by blind-copying friends into an email reminder a week before the event. If they still fail to respond, they don’t deserve your hospitality.

If the person on the other end is emoji-prolific, do I have to respond in kind?
No, but it may be worth giving it a go. If you’ve ever obsessed over the nuance of a text, you’ll agree sometimes, words are just not enough. Emojis and GIFs eliminate reading between the lines because there are none: just sentiment and tone. Besides, “emojis are fun, Kimojis even more so and receiving a GIF from your grandmother is amazing.”

Avocado emoji is here: Photos of new emoji in iOS 10.2

Some of our favourite food emojis. (Apple)

What’s the role of email in the changing communication landscape?
Your mail platform is the new stationery and email is the 21st-century epistle. Were Dangerous Liaisons’ Valmont alive today, he’d be balancing his MacBook on his lover’s buttocks. Use email to make important plans, apply for a job or contact your lawyer — anything that demands a trail. Any missive you don’t want popping up, unsolicited, on someone’s screen also warrants an email.

What about passive-aggressive messages? How do I respond?
Faced with a hostile communiqué from a friend or colleague, take a page out of the snail-mail rulebook and hold fire. “Sleep on it,” says Mellow, “then call the sender or meet face to face.”

Does a Facebook wall message say “happy birthday” enough?
For tangential acquaintances — the sister of your former colleague — a Facebook-wall HBD suffices. But as much as Facebook loves alerting you to your best friend’s date of birth, real friends might want to consider real world B-day actions in addition to social media posts.

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