Remember AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)? When it launched in 1997, it introduced a generation of internet users to the concept of instant text-based messaging. It went on to become one of the most popular applications of its kind.
Millennials, in particular, grew up with instant messaging. From AIM and MSN Messenger to SMS text messaging, these technologies shaped and defined how a generation communicated.
Despite AIM’s demise in 2017, the legacy of the once-popular messaging application lives on, particularly in how messaging has become a staple of business communications today. As it turns out, those Millennials who grew up with instant messaging now make up 35% of the workforce, and they’ve brought the concept to their business colleagues of all generations.
Rather than instant messaging, however, the 21st-century business version focuses on team messaging—a way for teams to form around business topics and projects using a powerful combination of team messaging, document sharing, and integrated solutions for calling and video meetings.
While messaging isn’t new by any means, this heightened role in workplace communications certainly is. With this new importance, however, comes the need to ensure you’re using proper etiquette. As many of us have experienced, simple text—without the context of body language and tone of voice, can often be easily misinterpreted.
Here are a few tips on how to effectively use team messaging applications to communicate with your colleagues.
1. Be a mindful messenger
While team messaging can help you be more concise with your communication, being too direct or short with your messages can also send the wrong intent. For example, abruptness can often be misread by colleagues as insulting.
Choose your words carefully. Before you send out a message, take a second to read it. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you’d received it. Also, keep in mind that your communication preferences may differ from those of your colleagues, so don’t be afraid to ask how they’d like to hear from you.
2. Reply in a timely fashion
Sometimes we all just need to tune out the world and focus on our work. There’s nothing wrong with that, but set expectations for when people can expect a response from you. If you ignore too many requests, colleagues might feel they’re not a priority.
To avoid misunderstandings, always acknowledge messages. A simple “received, thanks!” or “I’m busy right now, but I’ll check it out after lunch” can go a long way toward making your colleagues feel heard and appreciated. And if you know you’re going to be spending a lot of time in heads-down mode, give your team a heads-up beforehand so they know when to expect a response from you.
3. Praise in public, correct in private
Constructive feedback is a critical part of employee development. How you deliver feedback, however, is just as important as the feedback itself.
Good co-workers don’t reprimand others in the middle of a staff meeting, and the same goes for your team messaging platform. Public criticism can embarrass and demoralize employees, and can often lead to feelings of shame, avoidance of work, or outright resignations. It can also affect overall team morale. To avoid these problems, deliver feedback one on one, either in a private message or a call.
On the other hand, share praise publicly. Depending on the size of your company, employees can often find it difficult to appreciate their colleagues when they aren’t directly involved in each other’s projects. Sharing wins in a public team messaging group helps employees feel more valued and appreciated, and can boost morale for the entire team.
4. Pick your communication channel wisely
Team messaging apps aren’t appropriate for every conversation. For example, messaging groups work well for rewards and recognition (see tip #3), as well as project updates and discussions, but they’re rarely the best place for constructive feedback, personal discussions, or company announcements.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a response requires one sentence or less, use messaging or email. If a response requires three sentences or more, schedule a call or video meeting. It’s best to deal with complicated issues face-to-face so you can take in non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, body language, and posture.
5. Consolidate your messages
Some might say the world consists of two types of texters: those who communicate their thoughts in a flurry of short texts sent in quick succession and those who consolidate their thoughts into one complete message.
While the former often works for a call or video chat, as a messaging style, colleagues might find it annoying to read. It also can make it harder for your colleagues to understand what you want from them. Remember: the more clear your initial communication, the more productive the interaction.
6. Be professional
Although messaging conversations tend to be less formal than email, you still want to maintain a certain level of professionalism to avoid misunderstandings.
For example, avoid using abbreviations like “how r u?” and excessive exclamation or question marks. Last but not least, don’t forget to proofread your messages. Typos happen, but too many spelling or grammar errors in a work context can make you appear careless.
7. A little kindness goes a long way
As the saying goes, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” So when in doubt, be kind. It can be as small as checking in with a colleague first to see if they’re available before launching into a conversation. Or perhaps try starting your conversations with a greeting and a “How are you?” before you continue with the rest of your message.
It’s easy for words to get misconstrued over text, so to avoid conflict, do your best to refrain from judging the other person’s opinion, story, or perspective. There are always two sides to any story, and neither is necessarily right or wrong.
The art of team messaging communication
Team messaging apps allow us to communicate and share information faster than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we should forget our sense of empathy and compassion. Effective communication is a valuable skill that takes effort, intention, and lots of practice to cultivate. If you take a little time to think before you type, you’ll likely find that your team members will be more open and receptive to what you have to say.
Communications in today’s workplace goes beyond just team messaging. Employees use a combination of messaging, video conferencing, and calling to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. And while team messaging is vital to modern work, it’s important that your organization always has video and phone for more in-depth discussions. Ideally, your solution combines messaging, video, and phone into a single app, allowing employees to seamlessly switch between modes of communication.
Originally published May 05, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023