I am an email person, but found that at my new job, co-workers use IM a lot. I have to admit that I have been largely ignoring the IM/SMS as a way of communication by thinking it is only for teenagers...

The IM-style of communication is quite different from emailing. The sentences are shorter and there is less time for a response. So when I chat with someone, more often than not, I feel that I lag with the answer and then I just pick up the phone - and the conversation usually last minutes ... which plainly defeats the idea of the "instant" communication.

Are there some recommendations that I can follow to improve my IM communication skills?

  • 6
    Personally I think you don't have to respond 'instantly', you can answer whenever you want, when you have your answer ready. I myself dislike using IM/SMS also for business purposes. Sure asking a collegue who is on a 'remote' place (not near you) via IM is usefull, but it's better to make a phone call or send an e-mail, so you can make yourself more clear. Short messages (SMS and IM) quickly lose context and therefore are less clear
    – Jan_V
    Mar 30, 2011 at 13:28
  • Why do you feel you lag? Are you a slow typer? Do you tend to write full sentences? Do you use acronyms/abbreviations? Mar 30, 2011 at 13:29
  • I found IMs very counterproductive. With e-mails it is much easier to avoid distraction by switching all the notifications off.
    – SK-logic
    Mar 30, 2011 at 13:39
  • @SK-logic - if you don't want to be distracted, wouldn't you indicate that on your IM?
    – JeffO
    Mar 30, 2011 at 13:46
  • 1
    I see IMs as being the equivalent of yelling something over the cubicle wall to your coworker. When you're not working right next to the people you're collaborating with, IMs can take the place of that informal short question that doesn't merit a meeting. Mar 30, 2011 at 14:29

5 Answers 5


Here is a great article on when to use IM and when not to, Email etiquette. Here is a snippit that I think is relevant to your question:

Practice communicating briefly and succinctly. Clarity is a skill that needs to be worked on in email in general let alone when it comes to the short messages generally used with IM. IM is meant for brief communications – not your manifesto on the day’s events. If the topic is that long winded or complicated ask when would be a good time to give them a call on the old fashioned telephone to discuss the topic further. With IM there are limitations you need to be aware of for long winded discussions. IM generally only allows 512 characters (79 words) per message. Anything that cannot be communicated effectively in short blurbs should be discussed via regular email or telephone.


It's ideal for quickly sparring bits of code or error messages back and forth between people on a team, especially if the system you use supports group discussions rather than just point to point.

It's less intrusive in your workflow than telephones, faster than email.

Of course all depends on the people using it. If it's a bunch of immature kids whose idea of a mature conversation is sending reams of IM shorthand, it won't work. But professionals should be more mature than that, or they're not professionals.

  • Why not sharing bits of code and error messages in a bug tracking system, with an appropriate prioritisation applied?
    – SK-logic
    Mar 30, 2011 at 14:19
  • Because it might not be bugs, just errors during development.
    – jgauffin
    Mar 30, 2011 at 14:45
  • correct. And for speed. While working on a problem with several people, an IM system can work like a sort of shared notepad or whiteboard when you're not in the same physical location (like now, I'm working with 2 people elsewhere in the building, and on occasion several more on the other side of the planet).
    – jwenting
    Mar 30, 2011 at 15:25
  • @jwenting, for this sort of things wiki is a much better option.
    – SK-logic
    Mar 30, 2011 at 15:50
  • it isn't, SK. You're confusing stuff that needs to be retained to rapid brainstorming sessions. Think of the IM as a distributed whiteboard that gets wiped clear after a session because there's no reason to retain the data. If someone wants to save it, they can (and most IM systems do keep logs if you want them).
    – jwenting
    Mar 30, 2011 at 16:53

Are there some recommendations that I can follow to improve my IM communication skills?

I'd suggest a combination of practice and asking for feedback to get used to however your co-workers use IM. Some conventions used by those around you may not be universally shared but could be quite useful to know.


Like any form of communication it has it pro's and con's, but until people use it enough it becomes a bit of a fad and all forms of communication attempt to be squeezed into this one mechanism.

My point regarding you question is not that you need to learn how to use IM but when to use it. Despite the current use of abbreviations, you still need all communications to be clear and meaningful - so if you can express yourself clearly then just do so - please don't attempt to learn IM speak to fit in especially if you feel like you are dumbing down.

IM : good for short easy to answer questions [ Personal request to all.. put the greeting in the message - only interrupt me with a question not a greeting and then make me wait while you type :) ]

Email : good for longer, non-immediate knowledge sharing or questions.

Person-Person ( face to face ) : Anything complex !

  • IM IS person-person if the other guy is on the other side of the world :) We're a distributed society, so we need distributed means of communications.
    – jwenting
    Mar 30, 2011 at 16:55
  • Sorry I should have expressed that as face to face. The bulk of our communication is done outside of our speech and actual words. You can communicate far more effectively when you can see the other person - which is essential ( for efficient ) communication of complex matters. Mar 30, 2011 at 19:20

Are there some recommendations that I can follow to improve my IM communication skills?

Create an account on Twitter. Find some people who talk about things you like, and follow them.

Regardless, you'll get better just reading other people's IM's.

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