The tough thing about communication technologies is that they typically become widespread and ubiquitous before society informally codifies a set of agreed-upon norms around their use.
Such is the case with texting. Even though it’s been around for a couple decades now, folks still have varying opinions as to what texting behaviors are appropriate and polite. One area in which people have particularly divergent perspectives is how long it should take someone to respond to a text.
People generally fall into two camps here: The first responds to the texts they receive pretty promptly, and expects others to do the same. The second might not respond to a text for a day, or several, and doesn’t mind if people respond to the texts they send out in a similarly leisurely fashion.
When an individual in the first camp is in regular correspondence with a member of the second, conflict can ensue. When the former doesn’t receive a response from the latter in what they consider a timely manner, they can feel worried that they’ve said something wrong, frustrated that they’re not able to move forward on a decision pending an answer to a question, and even resentful or slighted, interpreting the lack of response to their message as a signal from its recipient that they, themselves, are unimportant. The slow responder, meanwhile, is probably completely unaware that they’ve created a sense of angst in the other person.
Neither camp is “wrong”; remember, there’s no agreed-upon norms that the second camp is violating, and that the first camp ought to be enforcing. Folks are just doing what feels normal for them in their brains.
But to avoid the tension and misunderstandings — what digital communications expert Erica Dhawan calls “timing anxiety” — that can arise when members of these divergent camps text, asynchronously, past one another, it behooves both to try to meet each other halfway.
If It Takes You Awhile to Respond to People’s Texts:
Make an effort to respond more promptly. In Digital Body Language, Dhawan says that the general expectation around text messages is that they’ll be answered within an hour. The data says that the average text message is responded to in 90 seconds, and according to one study which polled folks 18-65, taking more than 20 minutes to respond is considered rude.
These are just averages, of course. But if you’re someone who typically takes hours to days to reply to people’s texts, know that you’re likely ruffling at least some people’s feathers.
You probably don’t want friends and loved ones to feel frustrated or slighted, so do what you can to manage people’s timing anxiety by being better about promptly responding to the texts you receive. Dhawan suggests this rule of thumb: “If you can answer in 60 seconds or less, respond immediately.” (This philosophy in fact works well for most anything; if there’s an action item on something that you can take care of in less than a minute, Do It Now
Even if someone’s message can’t be responded to in 60 seconds, if it concerns an urgent question, or includes a vulnerable disclosure, do your best to respond as quickly as you can; no one likes to be left hanging in such circumstances.
Turn off the automatic read receipt function. Messages sent between Apple phones have a “read receipt” function that shows people exactly when you read the text they sent. But this can create expectations that end up inflating someone’s feelings of hurt or frustration. That is, because the sender knows you’ve read their message, taking a long time to respond may irk them all the more. You may have quickly read their message at a red light, and aren’t going to be able to respond until you complete the rest of a long drive home. Or you glanced at it during a meeting, and can’t reply until it’s over. But of course the other person is unaware of these circumstances and can be thinking: “I know you saw my message! Why aren’t you answering me!?”
To better manage response time expectations, make sure the “read receipt” function on your phone is turned off. You may think yours is, but it sometimes seems to mysteriously come back on, and folks don’t know it’s showing until a friend clues them in.
But give people your own read receipt. If someone has sent you a message, and circumstances or the need to think about about their comment/look more into their question, will