7 smartphone etiquette must-knows

Are you hip to the text, call, email codes of etiquette? Read these 7 steps to check.

If you grew up writing letters, sending snail mail and leaving messages on answering machines, then listen up to Bron Maxabella's lessons on modern communication using smartphones.

By Bron Maxabella

Leave ‘em on read and other phone etiquette disasters

Did you know that not responding immediately to an SMS is, like, ruder than using a ‘thumbs up’ 👍 emoji?

At least, it is when you’re Gen Z and born after 1997. Leaving someone ‘on read’ (in other words, not responding to their message straightaway) is considered deeply manipulative and upsetting. And that thumbs up emoji? Passive-aggressive.

It’s not just Gen Z who are redefining phone etiquette either. Most millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and many Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) consider phone calls to be invasive and even anxiety-provoking.

They’d rather stack your emails and messages up and get to them when they’re good and ready, thank you very much.

Which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Life is busy and boundaries are important.

Here are a few more phone etiquette rules to bear in mind before you next pick up the phone.

1. Don’t leave someone on read

So what do you do after you’ve read a text message and don’t feel a response is in order? Just hit ‘like’. If you do plan to respond but don’t have time in that particular moment, either hit like and come back later, or send back a quick message like “I’ll think about it and let you know soon”. Even a carefully chosen emoji will do, however…

2. Choose your emojis wisely

Emoji meanings aren’t universal, so be very careful. For example, in Canada, a farmer was ordered to pay more than $90,000 after using the ‘thumbs up’ emoji in response to a contract. The court ruled that the ‘thumbs up’ was as legally binding as his signature.

While that’s an extreme example of emoji power, elsewhere they can still get you into trouble.

In China, the ‘waving hand’ 👋 emoji means you’re breaking up with someone. The ‘okay’ hand emoji 👌 might be benign in most countries, but it’s the equivalent of giving someone the finger in Brazil.

The ‘thumbs up’ emoji 👍 would have a similar reaction in Iraq and the ‘rock on’ 🤘 emoji is a huge no in many parts of the world.

In fact, there’s a whole world of emoji meanings out there and someone’s dinner suggestion is another person’s DTF request (Google it) … it’s best to avoid all instances of fruit and vegetable emojis, just in case.

3. Punctuation is interpretable

This might be a tough one for the grammar police, but in phone world punctation has meaning beyond old-school grammar.

Anyone under 25 years old will think you’re being aggressive if you use a fullstop at the end of your text. Neither would they dream of using a capital letter of any kind in a message (capitals apparently convey a bad mood).

TEXTING IN ALL CAPS has long been an indication of yelling and ellipses are best avoided altogether … because what do you mean, are you mad at me?

Exclamation points are similarly confusing. The odd one or two is considered cheerful but go too far and your message will likely be interpreted as a needy.

4. Don’t leave a voice mail

The voice mail system is antiquated and laborious, so it’s little wonder no one bothers to check it anymore. You may as well be shouting into a cavern – hello, hello, hello.

If you try to call (see below) and get sent to voice mail, with a bit of luck the person will have a voice to text service in place. If they don’t, hang up and send your own text message instead. If you’re really desperate to talk, make it a voice memo.

5. Text before calling (if you have to call at all)

It’s widely understood these days that no one except your grandma wants you to call them. Even then she probably won’t pick up.

Instead, if you want to speak with someone, don’t call out of the blue (especially if you know you’ll come up as a dreaded ‘unknown number’). Instead, send a text and arrange a time to call.

Don’t stress your person out by sending a text like “call me when you can” – only your boss leaves a message like that and it’s never good. Something like, “I’d love a chat, when’s a good time for you?” will suffice. Chances are your person will call you immediately.

6. Do call when emotions are high

Unless you’re Brené Brown, the subtle nuances of emotional matters are extremely hard to communicate in writing. So it’s best to save the big deals for a chat, not a text.

If you find yourself going back and forth with someone via text, put down those weary thumbs and call to continue the conversation. Similarly, if your text message requires paragraphs, it’s probably best to talk it through instead.

7. Run through the checklist

Finally, a quick checklist of smartphone etiquette 101 to run through:

• Never use your phone when driving
• Don’t use your speakerphone in public
• Use headphones at all times
• Never use your phone in the bathroom
• Let your caller know if you put them on speakerphone

And the golden rule of happy texting: if in doubt, assume good intentions. Most people aren’t deliberately being passive-aggressive over text; they just don’t know their fullstop from their eggplant emoji. 🍆

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