Texting Etiquette: To Talk or To Text?

Texting has become a part of our business and personal lives.  It comes in handy when we are in a public place and can’t pick up the phone, or when we want to send a friendly message of encouragement in the midst of an otherwise hectic day.  If you’re the parent of a teen or young adult, you already know texting has become the go-to method of communication.  But, how do you know when to talk (by making a phone call) and when to text? Use your best judgment, and refer to my refresher tips for texting etiquette below.

When a Situation Is “Telephone Call-Worthy”

1. When you receive a gift and want to acknowledge the gesture before sending out a thank you note.  Your voice has a way of conveying heartfelt thanks better than a thank you text.  The giver put some time into picking out the perfect graduation gift or birthday gift; the least you can do is thank them more personally than with a text.

2. Birthday wishes are more fun when the person can hear your voice. Sure, a quick birthday wish to your Facebook friend is a nice touch, but if you are good friends or want to make more of a lasting impression, pick up the phone and start dialing. You will get lost in the sea of well-wishers, including the dentist, butcher and ex-spouse’s neighbor’s children. Really, if he or she means anything at all to you – ring…ring.  Chances are she won’t even answer the phone on her birthday because she will be too busy answering Facebook remarks and you are off the hook!

3.  Illness, death or divorce. It is not appropriate to send your condolences or ask if you may be of help via an impersonal text message. If someone is suffering from a little sniffle, maybe, but if someone is getting over a devastating illness or personal crisis, make the effort to go out of your way to show that you care. When a person isn’t well, he or she may be stuck in bed for hours.  A friendly phone call will brighten the day.

4. When working under a deadline, texting directions may be more exhausting than picking up the phone and walking through the issue person to person. Talking to someone allows the other person to immediately ask questions and perhaps go through the motions while you are on the phone.

5. During an argument. It’s much easier to say something you will regret when you are not looking at someone or you can’t hear his or her voice. It’s too easy to misinterpret someone else’s tone by text and it’s prudent to talk the disagreement out rather than exchange jabs over multiple texts.

When Texting Will Suffice:

1. When you are meeting a friend at an event, a text, “I’m here – Where are you?” is sometimes easier than making a call in a noisy venue.  Same goes for, “We’ve changed conference rooms from 218 to 234” at a business event.

2. Just thinking of you.  Sometimes just sending a quick little emoticon or familiar word to someone you are thinking of is a nice way to say “I can’t talk but I’m thinking about you.” I have a friend that I send one letter to and it means, I’m thinking of you and hope you are having a great day. Another friend texts me two girls dancing and that means “Are you ready to exercise?” I have a third friend who sends a sun and I know she is thinking of me. Yes, I know, it sounds like I do a lot of texting, and I do – I love those emoticons!

3. Responding by text is almost always acceptable after a text has been received.  If someone has reached out by text, a response the same way is perfectly appropriate.

4. When you are attempting contact with your kids. Let me preface this by saying, absolutely not while your teen is driving. But, when they are at a friend’s house and you want to know when to pick them up or if they are ready to come home, they will most likely respond to a text faster than a phone call. Speaking from experience here…

5. When you are at the doctor’s office. The doctor’s office (at least mine) is notorious for running late. If you need to text a friend to pick up your child from school or you need to text your office to let them know will be late for a meeting, a quiet message via text is preferable to letting everyone in the doctor’s office know your business.

Finally, speaking of texts in general – I have a friend whose texting habits remind me of someone eating a potato chip – you can’t eat just one. Once he sends the first text, it becomes incessant until you finally STOP texting back. Be patient, the person you are texting may be unavailable or just avoiding your texts. Either way, just let it go and move along with your day.  Or, pick up the phone and call!

Text you later,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. says

    Very informative advice. In today’s world communication is almost done entirely now between calls and texts, but it can get tricky at times deciding which is more appropriate! I will be using these tips for future reference thank you Diane!

  2. Diane says

    I’m so glad you found the post helpful. Warm wishes for a lovely rest of your week!
    ~ Diane

  3. Tim says

    I text my ex at 7:30am about my TV remotes and where she had packed them. As I had just set up my TV in my new house. She sent back that I need a lesson in etiquette! I totally disagree. 7:30am on a Monday morning is not early as far as I’m concerned! What do you think?

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