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Many people who contact me on WhatsApp send me (too) many messages. Most of those messages are pointless, some are useful and few are important. I usually make it a point to reply to the important ones. However, the other two messages, even when I read, I don't usually reply.

Here, I am not talking about a joke or a meme that somebody sent me. But something like "You might be interested in this: blah blah" or "Should we have a party plan sometime this week?" or "How is your new project coming along?"

My past experience is that replying to these messages starts long conversations resulting into a wastage of time and basically lead to nothing important. So I usually avoid replying to them even after reading. However, I fear that my senders might think that I am a rude person or don't care about them or something.

So, how can I read their messages and not reply immediately without sounding rude? Or just reply to them so that that it doesn't result into long chats and waste of my time?

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    Is there any reason this question should be restricted to WhatsApp? – Azor Ahai Sep 14 '17 at 19:23
  • @Azor-Ahai Not the OP, but maybe it's not restricted to whatsapp, but any messaging app that notifies the reader that you've read the message. – Fodder Sep 14 '17 at 20:36
  • @Fodder Yeah, that's what I meant. – Azor Ahai Sep 14 '17 at 20:57
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    Who are these people? Do you want to maintain relationships with them? There's a big difference between ignoring the messages from your actual friends and family and ignoring messages from random people who found you on social media and want to be your friend, or from someone who you've already tried to "let down easy" but who isn't taking the hint. – 1006a Sep 15 '17 at 18:20

10 Answers 10

43

It is in my opinion rude, but maybe not for the reasons you could think.

You have the right to think their texts are pointless, of course. And you have the right to tell them :

Sorry, I'm somewhat busy, I can't think about that right now, I'm not interested by this, etc...

This is not rude.

What is rude is not giving them a return. This is an important part of our social relations. In real life discussion, you can tell what the person in front you think about what you said just by looking at their face. This isn't the case here, and by not replying, the sender can't tell if you're angry, bored, busy, or even just satisfied with their message.

This can lead to misunderstanding for the sender, and that's the rude point.

If you want to think more about it, think about real life. Would you not react at all if someone told you something in front of you ? That would be incredibly rude. The core of the problem here is the same.

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    Big big big disapproval to this answer. This is really a problem I notice really often with people who didn't grow up being always on. In real life you don't have a hundert of people talking to me at the same time with no way to leave the room. Assuming that I need to answer all your messages right ahead is simply insulting. Acknowledging that I at least read your message by opening it is fair: I could ignore it completly. If I didn't answer then I had a good reason to not do so. You don't write Sorry, ... a hundert or more times each day. I drop contacts who are this selfish. – Christoph Sep 14 '17 at 14:44
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    @Christoph Completely disagree. It's just plain manners to respond to someone when queried. Your advice is essentially telling them that their messages aren't important enough to be responded to. Regardless of how many times you need to do it, you should always reply even with small or insignificant answers. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Sep 14 '17 at 16:36
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    @Christoph I didn't say anything about answering immediately. I myself don't answer for hours sometimes. But I think you should'nt ignore it totally. – GlorfSf Sep 14 '17 at 16:42
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    @Anoplexian: I don't have any obligation to respond to any message I receive from any source, nor should anyone who sends me a message ever expect a reply unless they have an established relationship with me. – user1618 Sep 14 '17 at 19:47
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    @Christoph No, you're not. They're the one providing information, and you're never too important to send a quick thank you to someone for their time. Regardless, I don't think we're going to agree on this, so let's just leave it here. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Sep 14 '17 at 20:36
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It isn't rude to read and not reply directly. But from the three examples you gave, I would say it would definitely be considered rude by the other person if they never go a reaction from you.

  • To the 'you-might-be-interested-in-this-messages', you certainly don't have to reply immediately. Actually, these are probably the messages that you can ignore for the longest times. Just make sure to reply something like:

    I'm sorry, I was busy and haven't had the time to look at it. But it sounds interesting, when things calm down, I will take a look.

  • As for the 'should we have a party plan sometime this week', you should definitely reply within that week. Preferably the same day or the day after that. This person is trying to get you to spent some time with them. Either let them know you can't make it, so they can plan other things for that week, or let them know when you have time to meet them. If they are starting a big conversation, just state:

    I'm sorry. I'm pretty busy right now. I have the time to meet with you on < date/time >, we could talk then. Right now, let's pick a date, time and place, and I'll see you there.

  • As for the 'how is your new project coming along?', this person is trying to express some interest in you. They want to know you're doing alright. You don't have to reply right away. But make sure that after a few days, you sent them a reply. Again, state something like:

    Yeah, it's coming along great, but I'm so busy, that I couldn't reply sooner. Sorry!

Quote from your question:

replying to these messages starts long conversations resulting into a wastage of time and basically lead to nothing important.

I would rather look at these conversations like watering plants: by replying to them, you are watering your friendship with these persons. And if you don't like messaging, you could just give them a call. It's never wrong to say something like 'hey, I've got other things to do right now, but it was fun talking to you for a while', regardless of whether you are sending a message or calling somebody.

How can I reply to them so that that doesn't result into long chats and waste of my time?

Replying doesn't mean you have to sit on top of your phone for the next half hour, sending hundreds of messages to-and-fro. Instead, write a reply, maybe ask how the other is doing. And go do something else. The next time you pick up your phone, reply to the last message from your friend, and go on with your life again. This is perfectly fine when messaging. If I need to reach you right now, and have your reply right away, I would call you. If not, I would message you, and wait until you have the time to invest a little in our friendship.

On the assumption that friendships are important, replying to these messages is important as well.

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My friend finds this very rude. However, I do not.

It depends on the sender personality.

Ask yourself when you read the message "What I expect if I were the sender?".

Sharing stuffs?

"Yeah, it's cool." A reply may open an opportunity for them to start a long chat, but it's your responsibility to cut the chatter short if you are not interested or busy. Don't forget that they may only want to keep in touch with you. Or they may want to talk with you, but do not know where to start.
If you value your friends, think about this.

Something ended with "?"

Okay, that's a question. And question needs answer. Depending on the urgency, you should answer within reasonable timeframe. Give them a short answer if you are uninterested in further discussion. That may be a no, or sure, or okay.
But in any case, make it a habit to answer as soon as you read it. Even a "I'll think about it" or "Wait" will do.


If you dislike long discussion, giving a short reply will discourage the other party from engaging in a long conversation.

You may be interested that Whatsapp has a setting to turn off read receipt, with the caveat you will also not be able to know whether your message is read or not. This works on all chats, and not that single person.

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    What is it with all those bold words in answers lately? – Mitja Sep 14 '17 at 21:46
  • @Mitja it's my style to allow people to identify important keypoints in long answer. Do you think it affects my readibility? – Vylix Sep 14 '17 at 21:48
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    It just seems to me that answers, which use such an amount of emphasizing, try really hard to get the page-scrolling user's attention. But that really might be just me. – Mitja Sep 14 '17 at 22:00
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    @Mitja thanks! I will keep that in mind. I find myself struggling reading long answer, so I developed this habit. I really appreciate your thought! – Vylix Sep 14 '17 at 22:03
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I think this depends entirely on your culture (and possibly your age group)

In my age group, messages like the ones you describe are not expected to be answered. They are purely a share. In general I would not answer one of those unless I had a specific follow up comment, and likewise, I wouldn't expect an answer if I shared one. It wouldn't be seen as rude at all.

But then I have been online since before there was an Internet, and back in the day responding to anything cost time and money, so you got used to only responding to those things that needed it.

  • You wouldn't be expected to respond to "Should we have a party plan sometime this week?" in your age group/culture? The person is likely keeping a time-slot open in expecting a response, I would think. At least that is how I see it. Not to be offensive, honestly curious. – user4788 Sep 14 '17 at 10:28
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    I don't think any of my friends would ever ask that. They would plan a party and then invite people. And the "how is your project coming along" is something we would chat about next time we meet. Otherwise it ranks up there with "how are you?" - a non-question. – Rory Alsop Sep 14 '17 at 10:32
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While I agree with Cronax that many people perceive it as rude, I disagree strongly; they are rude for demanding an answer.

The sender does not know what you are doing when you receive their message.
You may just have started a long meeting.
You may be at the cinema (you do have your phone set to silent, right?).
You may be attending a funeral (you do have your phone switched off, right?).
You may be engaged in all kinds of activity that you deem more important than answering their message.

Of course, as with everything, it depends. In this case, it depends on the contents of the message. You can take a peek through the notification, a loophole mentioned by Cronax as well.

If it is an actual question (not just any sentence with a question mark on its end), it would be rude not to respond. Likewise for some other serious message. But note that responding is not the same as answering. A response acknowledging that you've received their message and that you'll address or answer it later, either through the same medium (WhatsApp) or a different one (in person, over the phone, via e-mail) should suffice.

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I fear that my senders might think that I am a rude person or don't care about them or something

I will answer from my point of view. To me, it depends on the topic of the message and the context. For example, I'm asking you to meet tomorrow. I don't mind if you read it and answer later (as long as you answer of course), but if it is an hour before our meetup and I'm asking you where do we meet, I would be angry if I see that you read the message and didn't answer. It depends on the person as well.

how can I reply to them so that that doesn't result into long chats and waste of my time?

You have two options:

  1. Give a normal reply, and if you see they want to keep the conversation going, tell them that you are busy at the moment and that you'll talk to them later.

  2. This is what I usually do. I check the message without entering the app from the notification center and if I see that I can't or I don't want to engage on a conversation at the moment, I just leave it for later. I don't enter the conversation to read them, because without the notification there to remind me, I tend to forgot about the message.

And as Vylix said in their answer, you can disable the option to let your contacts know that you read their message.

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This highly depends on the context, culture, and the relationship with you. However, in general it is rude not to reply to these messages and I know many people who get mad about it.

Actually I'm also such a person (those who ignore frequently) and so I prefer to use WeChat (the equivalent messaging service used in China; it doesn't display if a receiver read the message) to any messaging app, and now many of my friends have changed into Chinese people!

One of the possible responses is that you first reply to a message, and after a few rallies tell them you are working right now, and imply you could not response any longer now.

Another possible way of handling is extend the time to take to reply longer gradually. The receiver would notice that it is not as comfortable to talk with you as with others right now.

Also, you should enable a notification and read your message only on the notification bar. Do NOT open the app by tapping the notification.

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I used to work in retail, and here is the rule I use:

I prioritize the people in front of me over the phone.

Customers get upset that I took so long to answer their phone call, but then I tell them I have live customers standing here, and I prioritize those that are in the store.

In real life, I prioritize the people in front of me over the people that are not. I think it is extremely rude when you pull out your phone in the middle of a conversation to look at your social media. I made the effort to come out here, but you're so distracted by the electronic noise and prioritize (yes, you DID just prioritize it over me) someone far away over me, who is actually in your presence.

Given that attitude, I do not presume people to be on standby to answer my messages. If they do not answer, that's fine, I'll see them eventually and catch up.

I think the people who gets sensitive over this area may be suffering from lack of people connection, so these unresponded messages are offensive, because they have no alternative, deeper connections with people. That's just a theory because I don't get offended, and I just want to know why people do.

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Many people perceive it to be rude

Regardless of my personal belief, many people have come to perceive it as rude if you read something and don't reply, especially since in the case of a whatsapp message they can see that you've read it. We can go into a long discussion about people's expectations in today's 'always on' society and whether or not it's healthy, but it's largely academic: people expect you to respond to their inquiries as soon as you notice they've made them regardless of how important the inquiry is. Part of the explanation for this is that people feel that your lack of a reply reflects judgement on them rather than just judgement on the matter under discussion. In short, they feel that you not replying means you find them unimportant rather than the message.

So is there nothing to be done?

Personally, I use the notification screen of my phone as a loophole: it allows me to judge if the message is important or not and if it's not, I avoid reading it until I'm ready to reply. I've tried convincing people that my lack of replying doesn't reflect any judgement on them, but it's a losing battle: people will feel what they feel regardless of what you intend to make them feel.

If I do read the message in the app directly (either by accident or because I misjudged its importance) I generally provide a very short reply explaining that I'll look into it as soon as I can, i.e. "I'm not sure I'll be free then, I'll let you know as soon as I do" or more generally "I don't know, I'll have to check later/this evening/tomorrow/this weekend". With some practice, you can learn to use language to clearly indicate that you're unable/unwilling to interact with them without coming across as disinterested and/or rude.

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About the replying, I think it depends of the matter of the subject.

You said:

I usually make it a point to reply to the important ones

If they know that, they should understand not all messages will be answered in the time you recieve it.

If you find the message (not interested, for example), the (two tick marks) should be enough for the sender. If he/she insist sending you more messages or emojies or whatever, proceed as you consider (for example, reply when you have time).

If I remember correctly 1, WhatsApp has a status option which you can text and set the color of your status.

So, as alternative, if you don't want reply the messages, you can set your status (color and text) indicating that you're only reading messages and you're busy for reply them.

I think that some people read those statuses and proceed accordingly.


1 I stop using WhatsApp more than a year ago, so maybe the newer versions of WhatsApp has more features regarding status.

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