Rules of Life: Instant Messaging

I haven’t done a Rules of Life in a while, but we just got an email from Accenture about “IM Etiquette” so I couldn’t resist re-posting it here.  I’ve paraphrased a bit to protect the innocent, but I do think our CIO has been reading my past posts on Rules of Life … cause this one fits here way too well.

Instant messaging is often the most effective way to communicate. Unfortunately, it’s also the most intrusive. Having a text box pop-up on your screen at an inopportune moment can be frustrating (or embarrassing). So how do you make sure it is OK to send your colleague an instant message (IM)?  Office Communicator, AOL IM, MSN, and most other programs have a presence indicator that can tell you whether your contact is free or busy. But that’s the simplest rule, here are the rest of the Rules of Life to Instant Messaging (courtesy of the good people at Accenture):

  • Write short – IM is conversational. Don’t get into huge specifics that are best saved for a presentation or e-mail
  • Turn off caps lock – stop screaming! Typing in all caps can come across as you yelling at your colleague
  • Don’t engage in idle chatter instead of getting down to business. Since it takes seconds to type in a response, make sure you are focused on what you need to say
  • Be sure to ask the person if he or she has time to chat before you launch into a conversation
  • If a contact’s presence status is set to Busy, refrain from sending a message to the contact unless it is urgent
  • If a contact’s presence status is In a Call, they may be slow to respond or may not respond at all. Responses will vary by person and by the nature of the call
  • If a contact’s status is set to Do Not Disturb, do not send the contact a message unless it is an emergency
  • Unlike e-mail, IM is conversational, similar to a face-to-face discussion. Do not worry about strictly taking turns or that spelling and grammar are perfect as this will artificially slow conversation
  • If you are initiating the IM, your first message should state the topic and ask the other person if they have time to IM with you (e.g., “Got a moment to discuss the Generic account?”). This may not be necessary with someone you work with frequently and when the question is quick and simple (e.g., “Are you going to join us for the meeting?”)
  • Do not take offense if your contact doesn’t respond immediately as the contact may be unable to do so, even if the contact’s presence status is Available. Assume the contact will respond when free. Avoid messaging someone repeatedly when you do not get a response
  • If you receive a terse IM response (e.g., “in a meeting – talk later”), do not be offended. While this may be considered a rude response in person, it is a perfectly acceptable way for a contact to let you know they’re unavailable to IM at that time
  • Use of emoticons (graphical representations of facial expressions) can be useful in providing context around the text of your messages, as they can help support a more natural form of communication
  • Avoid having too many “goodbyes” as you attempt to end the conversation. The first person to indicate an end to the conversation is usually enough
  • If you are in a meeting, call, or Web conference, it is best to turn off the sound of your IM to ensure the sound of incoming IMs won’t be disturbing to others who might be meeting with you
  • Do not invite someone to join a multiparty IM session in progress without first asking the others in the session if it is OK to do so

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