WhatsApp is my primary tool for communication. In contrast to SMS, I can see when my contacts have been online and if they have read my messages. The latter is not always 100% certain because on some phones you can ‘read’ parts of your WhatsApp messages on the dashboard instead of opening WhatsApp. So if it shows ‘unread’ the person might not have seen it or might have read it but chose to keep it showing as ‘unread’. If you see that someone was online on WhatsApp, you can assume that the person has seen the new messages in their inbox but has not opened them. Ok, so why all this detail about WhatsApp messages?
So what happens when someone sends me a WhatsApp message and I do not reply? Normally, I am busy and I am not able to respond immediately. Sometimes I don’t answer because I don’t want to talk to the person or I actually don’t know what to say. At times, I want to respond later and think about the response before typing an answer. I then honestly often forget about it.
When I send a message and don’t get a reply, I first check out when the person was last online, if it was after I sent the message, I start wondering why. Knowing the person's day-to-day life and chat habits help to gauge whether the person has not seen it or is just not responding. It then reaches the point when I start speculating and make assumptions about the other person. I still try to be easy-going and to make up excuses why I haven’t received a response. After another while, I get impatient, and a nagging feeling is settling in that the person is avoiding me deliberately. Good etiquette, however, requires not to show that I am irritated and not to ask or bother the other person further.
Chat apps like WhatsApp put pressure on us to say something immediately, and the sender feels almost entitled to an instant gratification of a response. So, is it bad to choose when, how and if to respond to a message? Is there an acceptable time lapse when it is still ok not to reply or is it rude not to do it at all?
I sometimes get upset about non-responses and make assumptions in my head. However, I think it’s time to be self-critical here. I believe it’s time to give our friends and acquaintances the right back not to answer or to do it within their own timeframe, without attaching any negative feelings or assumptions to it.
Secondly, I think as much as we make choices about our chat behaviour, we should have the grace to allow others their chat-response behaviour.
Yes, of course, any person in dire need or distress would love an immediate answer, but even then the person on the other side might be in a non-conducive environment to reply. And if it is a matter of life and death? I would suggest don’t use WhatsApp but pick up the phone.
So maybe this post is more a letter to myself but I hope some of you can identify with this….