Instant messaging is a great way to contact a colleague quickly to touch base about a project, or simply keep in touch. Personally, it’s one of my least favorite modes of communication—but I’m in the minority! With some common-sense practices, you’ll avoid confusion and IM effectively.

  1. Always Greet. No one likes to receive a message about a problem or impending task without a simple greeting. Be thoughtful and kind: say hello and address them by name (this also prevents you from messaging the wrong person).
  2. Wait for a Response. Don’t barrage them with information before knowing that they have the time to read and respond to you. Usually, they’ll respond with a kind greeting when you give them a few moments, ensuring that the conversation starts out on the right foot.
  3. Be Thoughtful. If you want to discuss complex information or a sensitive subject, consider if IM is the best mode of communication. You may want to use IM to alert your colleague about what you need to discuss—and set up a time to meet in person or speak over the phone. For example, “Got a minute? Would like your thoughts on the sales report.”
  4. Get Right to the Point. If you think IM is the best mode of communication, get right to the point. For example, “Could you help us revise this process manual? Our team’s really swamped.”
  5. Avoid the Word “We.” The word “we” can become confusing very, very quickly with IM. Try to use specific names whenever possible, or “my team” or “you and I.”
  6. Avoid Sarcasm. With all business communication, sarcasm (and humor in general) doesn’t translate well. Use it only if you’re completely positive the recipient will understand and enjoy your humor.
  7. End on a Positive Note. Always express gratitude and acknowledge the other person’s hard work before letting them know you’re leaving the conversation. For example, “Thanks for your leadership on this! I need to work on another project—give me a call if you have questions.” An IM conversation is no different from a phone conversation; ending abruptly seems rude  while kind parting words leaves a lasting impression.

Another great way to use IM is to quickly message colleagues to stay in touch. For example, “Welcome back, Karen! Hope the vacation was great!” or “Jake—You did a stellar job on that presentation last week.” There’s no need for the other person to respond; it’s simply a kind note that will make the other person smile.

Do you have any other suggestions? What makes IM effective and efficient for you? What are other ways to avoid confusion? I’d love to hear! 

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