How to Communicate

by Jinryu

The problem with blogging for me is that I usually blog as a means of venting about something that’s pissing me off.  Rather than being negative as I usually am, maybe I’ll try and frame this more positively.  So yes.  Without naming anyone, lets go forward into a bright future, without (or, at least, with less) incompetence and asshatery.


Electronic Communications Etiquette.

Who this applies to:

If you send text messages, emails, any form of IM, or leave voicemails, then this applies to you.


Purpose of this:

To avoid people getting pissed off because: you don’t reply; your replies are too late; your replies are ambiguous; or, your replies don’t make sense.  Your gods/goddesses are Decisiveness and Clarity



Scenario: You get a message that a reasonable person would think is addressed to you that requires a reply.

Things that should immediately go through your mind are a number of questions.  This message that is addressed to me– does that person want a response?  Note that asking whether or not that person wants a response is different from whether or not you think you need to respond.  Something might be totally obvious to you which isn’t totally obvious to the other person.  

Signs that you need to Reply

A good way to know if someone wants a response is if there are question marks in the message.  Another way is if you see imperative conjugated sentences like “let me know” or “get back to me” or “send me xyz.”  And also, if the message is specifically addressed to you with your name in the first few words of the message.

If the message seems to be upset, that’s also a good reason to reply.


Acknowledge the Message

Don’t get reliant on those “message read” confirmations.  They were solely invented to bring strife and war between houses for having read messages but seemingly ignored them.  Just because you use a communication method that might send automatic read receipts does not exonerate you from the requirement to acknowledge a message.  You should probably be replying with a quick few words, unless the message you got was already a thank you or something.


When you get a message that seems to be requesting action, your valid options are: 

  • acknowledge receipt (by writing back), and answer/fulfill the request immediately or shortly after
  • acknowledge receipt, give them a progress report of what’s being done if it can’t be completed any time soon but is in progress
  • acknowledge receipt, but tell them  you are  declining to do what they are asking, don’t know how to do it, etc
  • acknowledge receipt, but tell them that you can only get it done in X days / weeks / pending some Y, so you will get back to them

Note that in none of the above options is there a single option to ignore a message requesting action.  Given that we all have cellphones, even if not smartphones, and we all have computers, there’s no reason why a reply should come later than a business day or two.


The WRONG things to do

  • Just because you think that SMS was sent to a few other people inviting people to drinks, you feel that it was a mass message that you don’t really need to reply to because you can just hide in the background.  IT ONLY TAKES A FEW SECONDS to decline involvement, and it keeps organisers in the loops.  It also makes organisers develop the impression that you’re a responsible, communicative adult rather than a teenage shitface who has commitment issues.
  • Do not make assumptions that someone has already been informed of the answer to something they have  asked you.  It takes a few seconds for you to ask something like “I think Maria has taken care of this already.  Is it alright now?”
  • Do NOT ignore a message just because you don’t know the answer.

Alternatives and Referrals

  • When someone messages you and you can’t oblige, help them: give them alternative dates to meet up.  Maybe refer them to someone else who might know.

Stop Taking Shortcuts


  • This isn’t SouthEast asia– don’t start doing like they do in the Phillipines are abbreviating four letter words to three letters.   Don’t start substituting question marks with periods or commas.  If you have a question, put a question mark at the end of it.
  • GRAMMAR.  Use proper fucking grammar!!  Spelling can be forgiven, but grammar is what gives meaning to your message.
  • Take the time to use proper punctuation.  The milliseconds you save by not punctuating properly come back to bite everyone when your message is misinterpreted, or un-interpretable.

Be Decisive and be Clear

  • Do NOT be passive agressive in messages.  Without your weasel face for people to look at, people won’t know whether you are really suggesting X or Y because your writing doesn’t convey things as clearly as you think.
  • Don’t be afraid to say YES or NO (or conceptual equivalents).  When you are replying to a message, you are making a decision– don’t try to sugar coat things.  Stand behind your decisions and stop trying to soften the blow with ambiguity.

Set Deadlines

  • Give people time frames when things are going to happen.  Set deadlines for YOU and OTHERS.


Bottleneck your Communications, but Check that Bottleneck

Don’t hold yourself to be contactable by WhatsApp, kik, Kaokao, AIM, Skype, Gtalk, email, facebook, hotmail and yahoo all at once if you can’t.



Example: “This week is a bit busy for me, I’ve got to do a lot of XYZ.”

Does this mean yes or no?  The person could be meaning to say “I’m busy this week, but I can make space for you! Let’s do it at X” Or on the contrary, they could mean “I’m busy this week– I cannot help you.”  Remember the golden rule– decisveness and clarity.  You need to make a choice, and equally important, you need to convey that choice clearly to the other person.  Here, both elements are lacking.  No one sends you a text message asking your for X and secretly wanting to hear your life story– be a doer, a solution maker, and a helpful person– and establish decisively and clearly whether you are useful or not.  For bonus, give them solutions them further options.