61

When talking with people through instant messenger or texting, I find it rude when someone doesn't reply. The other day I had met up with someone I knew from school. He told me about a business idea he had, and expressed interest in working with me. The next day I messaged him about it and he ignored me (even though I got the read receipt). A day later I messaged "aren't you going to reply?" and he basically gave some short answer that I'm pretty sure was intended to be dismissive.

How can I set boundaries to let people know I expect a reply, even if it's something like "I don't feel like doing this anymore"? Or is this just the reality when it comes to instant messaging etiquette? I know some individuals who do this more than others (i.e., it's a habit) and that is the focus of this question.

I agree sometimes a day is not long enough, and that read receipts may not have had time to reply. However, the question I asked was very straightforward (what is the name of the website?) and this same individual has done things like this before. Perhaps a better example is my friend was going to an event that I was going to as well, and when I asked him what time he would be arriving, he ignored me. Even replying "not sure" I would find more polite.

15 Answers 15

161

No one likes to be ignored, but with digital media, that's unfortunately something you will have to get used to.

People often read messages pretty quickly but do not always have the time to immediately respond. Especially in a case where a reply is not a quick answer or might need some more thought behind it, such as how it sounds from your example. This is similar to e-mails for instance, these are not mediums you should expect people to immediately respond on, even if they have read your message.

That being said, sending a reminder a day later definitely sounds appropriate. Your message sounds a bit direct and confrontational, so I would formulate it more along the lines of:

Did you get my message?

There's not much else you can do. Letting them know you expect a reply in advance does not really help your case either, they are already aware of this. You could try adding something like:

Please get back to me whenever you can.

This will let them know in a friendly way that you are waiting for a reply, but does still not guarantee anything.

If you really want an answer, call them.

93

You can't expect people to answer you right away when you send them a written message. They might be busy, they might be too tired to answer, they might haven't taken any decision yet and so one. Unless you are sending a message to one of your employees during work hours, this person doesn't owe you their time. And responding to someone is something that takes time, no matter how small the message is.

That being said, asking for an answer after a reasonable time, does seem... reasonable.

I will advise against a question where you already know the answer (and the other person know you know), like: "did you get my message". This might sound aggressive to the person you are talking to (it does to me).

What I would suggest instead would be more like this:

Did you get some time to think about my message?

Be careful to not use this if your previous message didn't need thinking. As OP pointed out, it will probably be seen as sarcastic. Instead, I suggest using that:

I know you might be busy, but if you could just take some time to answer to my previous message, I would be grateful.

Or

I know you might be busy, but I'm still very interested in X, so if you could just take some time to answer to my previous message, I would be grateful.

If they answer by saying they are sorry, but they really don't have time right now, you can ask them when they think they would (and add something at the beginning of the message like, "it's not to put pressure on you, but...").

In all those cases, you show that you have respect for the other person's time, that you are considerate, and you know they might have more important things to do than respond to you. Since you are considerate, the other person will probably be more willing to respond to you (and respond in a favorable manner). I know that I will (and I sometimes take a really looooong time to answer).


If the question is more a way to make conversation (for example with a friend) and you don't really need the answer, I suggest to just drop it. It is not very pleasant to be ignored by a friend, but it seems this friend doesn't have that much time for you. He/she may have some but obviously less than you, and so you will need someone else to spend time with when this friend isn't available.

This being said, you can still try to "revive the conversation" (not sure that's English) with your friend. Wait a couple of days and, if you friend hasn't responded to you, just send him a "random text" like a smile, a "Hey" or a "What's up?". With any luck, your friend will then have some time and respond to you. If not, you will just have to move on.

57

Just because it is called "instant message" doesn't mean you get an instant reply.

There are countless reasons why someone may not respond to a message. They might be driving, at work/school, or maybe - crazy thought - they might be someone who doesn't check their phone every 5 seconds. Even if you have some kind of indicator that they have read the message, like the green ticks on WhatsApp, this doesn't meant they are in a position to reply. Instant messages are marked as read when chat windows are left open on a computer, or if they are read and dismissed from a lock screen notification... you really have to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if they have read a message doesn't mean they are in a position to respond right that second.

I was an "early adopter" of the internet and I can tell you that when people sent the first emails, they didn't expect an instant reply. It was a replacement for traditional mail, and the only thing we expected to cut out was the delivery time. You only got your email when you turned on your PC. Reading and responding to mail used to take time, and it still should really, if we want the responses to be well-thought out and have any degree of quality. But 25 years on and we expect instant email responses too, because emails go to people's smartphones, and everybody has a smartphone, right?

If you called somebody and they didn't answer, you wouldn't always assume they were ignoring you - they might be busy, not have their phone, or it might be on silent etc etc. We should think the same with a text message or instant message.

Give someone a reasonable time to respond. Sure, after days of no response you might want to "chase it up" if it is urgent, but there are nice ways to do that. You could simply ask:

Hey, did you get my previous message?

Or why not go old-school and call them? I don't blame you for feeling frustrated at non-responders. If I'm honest I feel the same way if and when it happens to me. But it is much about your personality as theirs. You feel that you require a fast response, but that doesn't take into consideration what others think is acceptable. Calling a person may be better because right from the start you know if they are free to talk, or not. And if they are, you get a response straight away.

The problem with your direct question of how to let people know I don't appreciate being ignored is that it comes over a little passive-aggressive. You assume they are ignoring you, but neglecting to reply to a message is not the same as ignoring the sender.

If you were to say from the outset something to the effect of here's my question, I expect a reply, most people would think you were being aggressive, arrogant, and demanding. Similarly if you chased up a message with something like "I expect a reply" this would be rude by most people's standards.

It is a given that by asking a question you expect a reply, so there is no need to say it. A gentle reminder like I suggested above will bring your question back to their attention. If they are a decent person they will give you an answer, when convenient. Admittedly, some people are rude and deliberately ignore messages. You will figure out which they are if you allow a reasonable time for a response. But if you push for an answer aggressively you may lose a decent friend.

47

Ignoring IM's is part of proper use, start doing it, too.

View ignoring of instant messages (IM's) positively. Some more determined people are ignoring IM's intentionally as part of their personal boundaries to keep their focus, productivity or peace. They are determined to ignore personal instant messages in work to prevent distraction. They are determined to ignore work-related messages outside work to give themselves proper rest. They ignore messages during evening workouts or personal time to fully take their time which is important for them. Maybe you can find yourself in some of those settings, too. IM's, similar to incoming calls, are intruders, bringing you something often quite unrelated into your current context. You need to create your personal policy how to handle them.

Moreover, instant messages are considered to have smaller weight than e-mails because they disappear from view too easily. If you remember, in many messengers of the past, starting the messaging app did not bring recent messages and current position in chat, but they started blank - anything recent was gone. Even today, we still do not expect that the person will really find our recent message once it was dismissed - dismissed either intentionally or simply because the notification was blocking other view. This way, some IM's are even never noticed at all. (Example: by chance, last week I just discovered that someone wrote me very important IM in January, obviously relying on fact I'll find it. I found it 8 months later when searching for something else.)

Tips when reaching others not responding to your IM's:

  • Urgent thing? Ping via IM once more, then call.
  • Thing which needs more elaboration on either side? Condense your request into e-mail and send it. If it deserves special attention, you can use IM to notify that you sent an e-mail right now.

Tips for incoming IM's:

  • if you can't pay attention to them, be sure you keep them unread (or remember them) and follow them at later time
    OR
  • show your IM partners that they do not have to rely on IM's and they have to consider them forgotten if you did not respond to them shortly

As a commenter below my answer has said, instead of respecting other peoples' boundaries, you are basically asking here how you can force their boundaries to get open wider. But forcing other people's behavior generally does not work (unless it is required by state law, by some obligation of them towards you or by a contract). But for standard instant messaging, just give and respect freedom.

  • Expecting people to reply to you isn't pushing their boundaries. Are you saying that if someone doesn't reply to you, you assume they have a boundary and never talk to them again? – pullover123 Sep 17 '18 at 8:42
  • @pullover123 - please view that statement in context of previous paragraphs. Many times, you cannot rely that the IM was really seen, read and registered for follow-up. From this viewpoint, expecting replies from people who could barely hear my question is putting a responsibility on them to come and ask again. But typically, it is the person who is asking who wants to ensure that the question was heard. Moving this responsibility to other parties can be most of time pushing their boundaries. – miroxlav Sep 17 '18 at 9:07
30

You give them a call.

Email, IM, text messages are asynchronous media. You can't expect people to drop what they are doing to answer you. Read / Received receipts mean the message was delivered and (possibly) displayed on some screen. It does not mean it was looked at, read, or understood.

What does this mean for you?

It's worth accounting for some delay in your communications. Other people have their own schedules and what every email, text and IM is at heart, is a request to wedge some of the sender's time into the recipients' schedule. You're not in control of that.

If, on the other hand, you have a deadline, you can include that in your email (it would be great if you could respond by X because of $reason), where $reason is something likely to be interpreted as reasonable by the other party.

27

The fact he read your message doesn't imply that he has to reply.

I know this might sound rude, but it's perfectly fine to not answer when someone you barely know sends you a message.

There are countless reasons for which he might not want to reply (maybe he's busy, maybe he's not interested anymore, etc.). The fact you chatted with him doesn't give him an obligation to answer to your messages.

How can I set boundaries to let people know I expect a reply, even if it's like "I don't feel like doing this anymore"?

You cannot expect such things from other people, they are free to do whatever they want. Expecting other people to do things is fine if you are in a hierarchical relationship (father/son, or boss/employee, etc.) but otherwise, it's not.

The fact you're using a tech service that allows you to track if he read your message doesn't give you the right to force him embrace your own expectations.

"I don't feel like doing this anymore"

Very few people will dare to say this directly to stop a relationship. It's a fact. But yes, more or less, silence is often a way to say this.

If after one week he still didn't reply, it is a reply: he changed his mind, and doesn't want to continue the discussion anymore.

Addendum: why do people usually ignore and not explicitely say "I don't feel like doing this anymore"? Because saying this would start a new conversation, new questions (e.g. "Why don't you want anymore? What did I do wrong?") requiring new answers, new messages, that would create even more embarassment. For this reason people sometimes stop the conversation by just ignoring the messages, it's easier, faster and doesn't ask for a justification about their feelings (people don't like to have to justify themselves about why want to stop a relationship).

  • 1
    How do you interpret the reply of silence? "Please don't talk to me ever again" is a possible interpretation, but so is "Please ask again in a month when I'm not that busy anymore" – lucidbrot Sep 5 '18 at 11:37
  • 1
    @lucidbrot It can be both (not knowing exactly is frustrating indeed), but usually I understand it as a generic "I don't want to speak now" or in the context of OP, "The ball is in my court, so if I'm interested when I'll think again about, I'll let you know and get back to you. If I don't get back to you, it means I'm not interested anymore." – Basj Sep 5 '18 at 14:16
14

How can I set boundaries to let people know I expect a reply, even if it's like "I don't feel like doing this anymore"?

Boundaries are supposed to protect what is precious to you. You first need to determine what that is.

If the precious thing is your time, for example, you can say something like

The offer is good until tomorrow. After that, the deal’s off.

Then if they respond the day after, they run up against your boundary when you tell them you’ve withdrawn the offer. The next time you make an offer, they’ll know that you’re serious about the deadlines.

You can adapt this to protect your dignity etc. Be aware, however, that boundaries aren’t meant to be coercive tools - they aren’t there to make others behave the way you want. If they don’t reply, they just run up against your boundary, but setting a boundary can’t ‘make’ them reply. (You might be overstepping their boundary if you try to force them to reply.)

12

TL;DR

The "instant" in instant messaging is a horrible misnomer. It isn't instant, and it's frustrating to expect it to be so. It engenders confusion in reasonable people.

Longer

"Instant" messaging is asynchronous (as in not synchronized), as is email, snail mail, text messaging, voicemail, etc. If there's no one there to take the message when it arrives, it hangs around until someone reads/listens, or even just until the heat death of the universe.

By contrast, speech, phone calls, skype, telegraph, etc. are synchronous: if there's no one "listening" on the other end your message falls on the floor.

Some people have really embraced the nature of the asynchronous communication methods, which really irks people that still have expectations of synchronous communication.

My advice to you is that if you expect (or need, in a particular case) synchronous communication, then use a proper method: phone call, skype call, meet for coffee, etc. Don't leave a detailed voicemail, instead say "hey call me back".

Even if you know the other person has read your IM, real-time response just isn't an intended feature of the system (again, despite the name). It's a "best effort" feature of the system from a technology standpoint, and, IME it's a "best effort" kind of thing socially too.

  • 1
    "Don't leave a detailed voicemail, instead say "hey call me back"." I agree with the first half, but not the second half; that example is too terse. "I want to talk about your business offer, please call me back ASAP but not after 7:30 in the evening" is much better than just "hey call me back" because it gives the other person the context for the call. This means they can be in the mental state for it, gather any necessary details for their own reference before they call, etc. – a CVn Sep 11 '18 at 12:22
8

I would suggest following up with information on why a reply is important. Thinking about why you need a reply will help you deal with delays in messages.

What is the name of the website?

[read, no response]

I will have time to look at your website tonight, and I would like to see it before we discuss this further.

A lot of people have a hard time saying "No thanks", so giving an "out" will always help you figure out where others stand, and takes the uncertainty out of the conversation. Giving a deadline always helps in setting expectations for the conversation.

When will you arrive?

[read, no response]

I will arrive around lunch, so maybe we can meet for lunch.

Even if the other person doesn't have a good answer, offering a baseline to go off of can help narrow down uncertain plans. Now a reply can be "Sorry, I don't think I'll be there until after lunch." Or it can be "Yeah, I should be there for lunch, lets meet then." As the event approaches, you can narrow down plans for specific places and times.

If the recipient continues to be difficult, keep setting deadlines. "Are you going to be here soon? I want to eat before the 1:30 panel".

By setting expectations and deadlines in the conversation, eventually a reply will become urgent enough that you'll get an answer; or a reply will simply become unnecessary. Some people are just bad at making a commitment or saying "no", and by sending specific following messages, you can learn which people you can expect replies from.

6

I've read all the other answers and I don't think they're great advice. (No offense.)

This is IPS but also general business. You need to keep that in mind as you approach it.

In this situation

Be patient, accept that he won't get back to you soon, and be prepared for him to never get back to you at all on it. You can't win them all, and in life you're going to hear a lot more "no" than you hear "yes" and that's okay. It's something you must be able to accept without having it affect you negatively.

In future situations

Be patient, and always give a follow up time. "That's great, can you get me the info by Thursday?" or "I will set up a time for us to talk again next week, please send me relevant research material before then so I can review it and we can discuss it."

In both situations, be very patient. Patient persistence is how business happens. And having followup deadlines show you know what people need to do, how long it will take for them to do it, and that you have the management skills necessary to keep them in line. And if someone is fussed by having time frames in which they need to get things done, you don't want to get into business with them anyway. Better to not complicate your friendship with such things.

Should you call? Probably not. That doesn't highlight your ability to be patient, and will only lead to you being ignored when it's actually time sensitive.

Should you text again? Probably not. If it doesn't work out, that's okay. It's important to not get too attached to an idea until you see it's going to be concrete.

4

If you need some info at a particular moment, your best bet is to call. There is no accepted rule as far as I know when it comes to time replying to a text message. If you need to know if something by a certain time you can try sending them a call. If that that fails you can send a text or email saying that you just need to know by a certain time otherwise you’ll act on it. (E.g.: I need to know if someone is going to give me a ride to the airport tomorrow, but I need to know by tonight if they’re going to do it; just in case I need to schedule a taxi. I’ll let them know this by text usually further in advance, and call closer to the deadline, and, if that fails to get a response, make a decision on my own.)

4

I have a personal ranking of interaction and with each step down I assume that the answer my be delayed:

  • face to face
  • videocall
  • phone call
  • IM
  • mail
  • snail mail

This helps to set expectations for the other party (when they get an email it means that it is less urgent compared to them coming in to see me in person).

This is not a golden rule, there are lots of possible variations.

So if I received an IM from you, I would put it somewhere in the middle of my own classification. Since there is no Official Message Reply Time Standard, everyone builds its own and none is better than the other.

The "ignore" list is a bit different (but the conslusions are teh same). I am less likely to ignore

  • face to face
  • snail mail
  • email
  • IM
  • phone call

Phone call is at the very end because I do not like it too much when people expect interactivity with a problem which I did not have time to think about, and usually the "over the phone" version is more chaotic. On the other hand misunderstandings are cleared right away so, again, it depends on the cases (and people).

2

The other answers are already all great, but you mentioned something I want to refer to:

However, the question I asked was very straightforward (what is the name of the website?) and this same individual has done things like this before.

It seems to me that there is a specific person which, from your perspective, ignores your attempts more frequently. I have been in the same position with a friend of mine who did not respond for multiple days.

What really helped was sitting down with the friend and having a non-confrontational conversation on how that feels for me. It went something like this:

I really value you as one of my friends and hold you dear to my heart. I love chatting with you to keep in touch. I noticed, that sometimes you do not answers my messages for very long times and that makes me feel sad and ignored. I realize, that this is just a situational conotation that I myself implied from your non-response and I am sorry for doing that.

I then gave my friend some space to reply to that. Afterwards I proposed that a short reply like "Nice, will look into it later" or "Ok, busy right now" is a way more satisfying response for me, because I know the friend has seen it.

It really improved our friendship. But I do not recommend doing that with everyone who does not respond immediately to every IM. This was a case of not replying for days/weeks. If something is urgent, call. This thing is calles smartPHONE for a reason ;)

2

There are already some good answers here, but most of them give general advice about instant messaging. While I do agree, you cannot always expect a response right away, the examples given in the question are examples that do warrant a speedy reply and it is annoying to have to wait:

  1. The first example describes the other person initiating the idea of working together. And this person does not reply to a question asking for more clarification. A similar thing happened to me recently and does not feel respectful to be left dangling.
  2. The second example is about meeting up on the same day with a friend (not a casual acquaintance).

The question above is not just about IM, it is about respect between potential business partners and friends.

Here are some things I would suggest:

  1. While you cannot impose your boundaries on others you can state them and hope for the best. Do not expect too much. If you get a good reaction: good. If not, write it off, refine your skills, try again.
  2. In general, defining boundaries, getting feedback about your interactions or relationship etc. are better-done face to face. Pick one concrete thing at a time you are unhappy about, talk about yourself and what you want (or rather wish for), do not generalize or dramatize ("you never answer on time"), do not attack ("you are a horrible person"), stay calm, separate facts from interpretations (fact: "You did not answer last Wednesday" interpretation: "you are disrespectful"). These are general communication tips. Read up on this elsewhere. You might also want to check out "nonviolent communication" by Marshal Rosenberg.
  3. I don't think everyone complies to the same netiquette on IM. I think that is something that must be negotiated on a person-by-person basis. My friends know, they cannot expect a quick answer on emails or IM. If something is important, they know they can always call me on the phone. We also sometimes set up a time for phone calls in advance. This works very well.
  4. In general, the nature of IM seems to be that it is considered ok by a number of people not to have to answer right away, answer at all and not say good bye after a conversation. If you are uncomfortable with this, switch to other methods for things that are important to you (e.g. phone).
  5. For unimportant things, try to deal with it not always working the way you wish it would. It's (often) not personal. It's the communication form.
  6. For friends: Carefully try to find out why they act this way. You may be considered as being too pushy. It might be the other person setting their boundaries by not answering. However, there is no way to know (except asking). Again, I would do this in person (face-to-face). See number 2 for general communication tips.
  7. Choose your friends and business partners well. If it feels disrespectful, it sometimes is. No need to waste more time there. But you should not blow up small things out of proportion. No one can give you advice for that: you have to decide for yourself what is ok for you.

Resources:

There are very few books I can recommend but a number of people basically write the same thing. Here are some online resources that relate to the things I mentioned above.

However, I would strongly advise against using "formulas" especially if it goes against what you believe in. That won't work well. Use it as inspiration, do what works for you and good luck ...

general communication tips

about nonviolent communication:

I would like to add: NVC may seem weird at first because it completely contradicts what we are used to. It is not based on some religious faith, it is not a sect or a cult. It is just something which "really works" in my personal experience if you are a little open. However, it does need some practices and you may not want to use it in all social settings. But it is also something you can do only in your head, to separate your own thoughts, feelings, needs from your judgments. You will become more self-aware which might be helpful, without even having to change your communication style.

  • Hey Sybille, this is a good answer. We do ask answers to provide backup, and I see that you've provided a reference to "Nonviolent Communication", which is a great resource. Perhaps you could provide a link to the book and some relevant citations? Additionally, I was wondering if you had personal experience with some of the other points you've made? – Rainbacon May 11 at 16:18
  • @Rainbacon Thanks for pointing that out. I will add some references and clarification what my resorces are. In general, it is based on personal experience, but also reading a lot. It is not so easy to point out all references because I don't have all the material available here and of course in time, you form some theories of your own based on experience and a number of resources. About the "nonviolent communication": I have also been to some courses. But that is a huge topic of its own, what it's about, where it is best applied etc. and well beyond the scope of this answer. – Sybille Peters May 13 at 8:21
  • @Rainbacon I added resources. However, you were probably suggesting resources to actual research. I don't have that right now. Regard my answer as subjective and I hope the way I phrased it, it is clear. I will try to add more later when I can. – Sybille Peters May 13 at 9:01
  • The resources you added are great. We don't require that resources necessarily point to academic research. As for your personal experience, you should also add that into your answer when you have time. As the link that I left you points out, personal experience is a great form of backup for your answer. In fact, if you look around at a few questions, you'll find that the best answers often cite personal experiences of the authors. – Rainbacon May 13 at 13:03
1

Pardon one more recommendation in a slew of others — ten others, at time of writing.

From reading your description of the situation, my intuition suggested this possible scenario to me — please bear with me, because I will explain by way of example:


When I chat on IRC, there is this one person who repeatedly sends me private queries requesting that I assist them with a little project of theirs.
This assistance they desire takes a shape of them outsourcing creative effort to me for devising scenarios for a certain fictional character.
When it began, things seemed simple enough. Over time, I learned that they were relying on me to make up for their own lack of creative exercise: they aren't presenting me with scenarios and asking for some a critique, but asking me to devise rationales and initial conditions.

It is likely that this person lacks certain interpersonal aptitudes. A form of Asperger's? Possibly.
I therefore attempt to tailor my interactions in a way which minimizes, as much as I can know, their emotional distress or trauma, while assisting them indirectly.
Usually I simply tell them some variant of “I'm not in the mood” or “not now”, but sometimes I ignore the query when I'm not actively engaged in another discussion elsewhere on that IRC server.


Okay, enough of that. Now, to your situation.

Other answers have addressed how you can phrase your requests so as to be clear that whether there is a certain deadline, or whether you would like confirmation that the message was received even if the recipient has not yet formulated an answer to your request.
These dangling messages of yours are not simply friendly chat, but are professional questions which involve other social protocol.

My recommendation is that you assess the root cause for the lapse of reply.
Other answers have mentioned various possibilities: that the person simply hasn't gotten your message yet, hasn't read it thoroughly, or has read it but does not know that you are awaiting a confirmation that they are thinking things over.
There is another which you should consider: how often are you, for lack of a more tactful phrase, pushy when someone says ‘no’?
When you are inviting another person into some manner of bargain with you, and they tell you that they aren't interested, or that they are but with some unpleasant stipulations or conditionals, are you yourself impolite or difficult with compromise?

If you are, then there is a chance that these other people are ignoring you simply because it is the easy way for them to mitigate the potential situation on their end.

If you think that this is a possibility, then it seems to me that the best approach would be for you to address that outright.

  1. Admit that you have been difficult or obstinate in the past.
  2. Inform them that you will endeavor to be more reasonable in the future.
  3. Offer them some incentive. This is not a trick for bargaining or an attempt to beguile them: this is a boon, offered with no strings attached, to make up for any past wrongs.

Now, for the formalities:

  1. Proceed with delivering your proposal.
  2. Mention any deadlines for when you require an acknowledgement of receipt, if necessary.
    In the interest of being forthright, inform them why there is a deadline: This is not a tactic; it is only necessary if you would like to proffer your venture to another person and not to the both or more of them.
  3. Mention any deadlines for when action needs to be taken. This is when an agreement to proceed is required.

Finally — as other answers have put forth, — you need to consider whether the medium of “instant messages” really is the best for what you want.
When people see an IM, they usually associate that with brevity or with informal messaging. Of course, you can have IM serving in lieu of paging — e.g.

Where are you? Come up to the conference room ASAP

But, that's probably not your relationship with these people who seem to be ignoring your messages.

protected by NVZ Jul 10 at 19:10

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