Text vs. Talk – When Is the Perfect Time for Each?

October 28, 2019

As text-obsessed as we’ve become as a society, there’s still an argument to be made for making a human connection. Here, our digital etiquette expert offers 10 tips on how to perfect the art of mobile communication.

With more ways to communicate on our phones than ever before, it’s no surprise that the etiquette around choosing a method to deliver your message is far from clear. A text often seems exceedingly more convenient than a phone call, but, as our digital etiquette expert, Elaine Swann, explains, texting is not always appropriate.

When to Text

Good News: Swann’s rules here are simple: “If it’s big news you’re texting, it should only be good news,” Swann says, “like I got the job, we got the house, etc.” It’s also okay to text if people are awaiting an update, like if someone is having surgery. An example would be, “We’re at the hospital, keep us in your thoughts.” You can follow-up with a call later.

Logistics Coordination: According Swann, daily situations involving logistics — directions, arrival times, departure times, etc. — are always better suited to a text message, as the recipient will have the information easily at hand on their mobile device should they need to review it.

Requests / Favors: Swann notes that it’s perfectly fine to send a “Running late, could you pick me up something?” request that involves daily routines like procuring food or running errands.

If You Can’t Talk: This is a perfectly acceptable — and common — situation to send a text that you’ll call the person back when you’re free.

When to Talk

Not-So-Good News: When news is life-changing, and not in a good way, Swann says this should always be a phone call.

When You’re Concerned About Someone: “If you kind of get the feeling that a person is taking a little mental break, it’s fine to text to touch base letting them know you’re thinking of them,” Swann says. “But, if you’re gravely concerned about their wellbeing, then a phone call is more appropriate.”

When There’s Lots to Say: Typically, Swann says, you should try to respond in the same manner that you were contacted. However, if you receive a text and have a lengthy response, it would be more appropriate to call the person instead of text back.

To Clarify an Increasingly Difficult Thread: “We all know that technology doesn’t always translate everything well,” Swann says. “Instead of sending three or four text messages to clarify something, it’s a good idea to call someone and shore up those details.”

When You're Driving: One instance where you should not text, under any circumstances, is of course when you’re driving. If you’re able to use your device hands-free, call the person and tell them you’re on the road and can’t text back.

Asking Someone Out on a Date: “This should always be a phone call,” Swann says. “The same goes for breaking up with someone.”

Want to get even more out of your device? Check out our Zen Guide to Using Your Device!