A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Things You Should Never Do Over Text Message

Updated: Aug. 30, 2023

For the sake of your friendships, relationships, and career, it's important to know when to keep your thumbs from doing the talking.

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Break up with someone

Whether you went on two dates or were in a committed relationship for a year, ending your romance via blue bubble is not only tacky, but very hurtful and disrespectful. That’s why online dating expert Julia Spira suggests going the necessary extra mile and picking up the phone. “I’ve seen someone pen paragraphs of a ‘Dear John’ letter via text. If you were close enough to be naked with someone and talk about the future at some point, have the courtesy to call or meet in person,” she says. “Sometimes there’s just a misunderstanding that could prevent a breakup.” Find out the annoying texting habits you probably have that you should give up now.

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Cancel a date

Sometimes mustering up enough courage to go on a first date (or even a third one) is a feat in itself. But if you feel the urge to bail, whether you’ve met someone more interesting or you just feel like ghosting, pick up the phone, Spira says. “If someone is excited about the date and you say, ‘I have to cancel, sorry,’ it sends a message that you swiped right on a cuter option. Unless you know you’re going to reschedule—then you can say, ‘Something came up but I’d really love to reschedule. How’s Tuesday or Saturday?’ That way they know that they haven’t been deleted yet,” she explains. “Sometimes life gets in the way, but showing you want to move the relationship forward is a digital act of good faith.” Find out the times when texting actually is the better option.

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Deliver bad news

From the loss of your job to the loss of a loved one, bad news is always tough to relay. But when you’re about to tell someone something that could rock their reality or make them very upset, it’s important to prepare them as much as you can, and a text message doesn’t deliver seriousness in an effective way. “The other person can’t see your non-verbal signals, and your tone could be perceived as different from how you’re actually feeling,” explains licensed marriage and family therapist Courtney Geter. “Also, you don’t know what the other person is doing at that moment—they may not be in a position or situation to take bad news.” Obviously, you wouldn’t want to get bad news right before a big meeting, test, or event. A better plan: Ask the person for a time to meet, and note that it’s urgent. Suggest a location that is private or semi-private without distraction. If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, find a time to talk on the phone when the conversation can be private and distraction-free.

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Cheerful young redhead female student with cute smile siting in modern cafe interior, using cell phone, checking newsfeed on her social network accounts. Pretty girl surfing internet on mobile
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

Deliver great news

On the flip side of the coin, you’ll want to avoid sharing life-changing, super exciting good news over text, too. Of course, small victories like a good grade or a successful work presentation are usually fine to share via text. But—call us old-fashioned—if you just got engaged, are expecting a baby, or got a “yes” from the job or college of your dreams, that’s news that should be shared over the phone, if not in person! Of course, you can’t call every single person in your life, but if you care enough to specifically reach out to someone at all to tell them, you should reach out in a more personal way than a text. Beware of these telltale signs you’re addicted to your cell phone.

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Send sensitive, private information

While you might trust the people in your life to keep and maintain your secrets, hackers don’t have that same integrity. That’s why sending anything that’s personal, sensitive, or financial via text is a big no-no. And that goes for your info or that of the person you’re texting. “You don’t know who else may see this information, and it may never be completely deleted or removed from cyberspace,” Geter says. “Before sending a private message or picture over text or email, ask yourself the consequences of anyone else but the recipient seeing the information. If you come up with at least one negative consequence, rethink sending that information.”

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Bring up serious concerns

Your teenager took the car without asking—again. Your partner has been drinking a little too much. Your co-worker isn’t meeting her deadlines. When you have serious concerns, it’s better to speak directly rather than type. “Never have an important, in-depth conversation via text because of tone—we are too easily misunderstood, and take the very large chance of making the problem worse than it was in the first place,” suggests Nikki Martinez, PsyD.

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Spew sadness

Your pals posted a photo on Instagram at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, and they didn’t invite you. Or your ex suddenly has a new partner, right after you broke up. Whenever you see something online that instantly stirs anger, frustration, or sadness in you, that’s exactly when you should put down your phone rather than pick it up. “Upset texting is a way for you to immediately emote your feelings without having to deal with the other person’s reactions,” says relationship expert and author Dawn Michael, PhD. “You’re not opening a conversation but simply throwing up your upset feelings on another person, and they may not be in a place to receive those feelings.” Also, if you’re really overwrought, it’s a good idea to take a walk or spend a few minutes calming down before texting. Otherwise, you’ll send a message you might regret and can never take back. Find out some photos you should never post on social media.

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Spread gossip

Just like a lawyer or hiring manager is very, very particular about what they put in writing, so should you be cautious about what you write over text. Don’t forget that your messages can always be screenshotted and shared with other people in your circle, and then you never know who might see them. Whatever you send, you should be able stand by it. “Anything you don’t want someone else to see may be shown in a text, and this is a big issue,” Dr. Michael says. “The text meant for your girlfriend is now posted on Facebook or can be used as a weapon against you.” Even though you’re sending your message to a specific person, the second you hit “send,” it’s out of your hands. “Never send something so secretive or terrible that if it got out you would get in trouble, or it would come back to bite you in the butt,” Dr. Michael says. “It’s an illusion that your text message is truly private.” Plus, make sure you’re following these 10 group texting etiquette rules everyone should know.

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Frustrated woman having problem with not working smart phone sitting at home office desk, indignant confused businesswoman annoyed with discharged or broken cell, received bad news in mobile message

Complain about work

You probably know (or at least hopefully should know) that bashing your job or boss on social media is a big no-no. But, while texting may seem like a more private space to air your job-related grievances, you’ll want to think twice before you do that too—especially if the recipient is a coworker. Even if you’re pretty sure your coworker has the same opinion you do, bashing your job or another coworker to them is still a risky move and a good way to burn bridges. That’s not to say that you can never express your frustration when your job is less than hunky dory. But it’s better to do it in a situation where you can gauge someone’s response as you bring it up—and in a less permanent environment than cyberspace.

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Continue a fight

Getting the final word via text might seem really critical in the heat of the moment, but when you go back hours later, you might regret it. And if you’re fighting with your partner, it could easily make matters worse. “Let your partner know that you’d like to continue the discussion when you get home, or make plans to meet and talk it out in person. Misunderstandings can occur over a text message, leaving you in a worse position, because you’re not able to read facial clues or understand the intent behind the words,” says psychotherapist and relationship expert Sarah Mandel, LCSW. “Looking at your partner’s face and hearing their tone of voice releases the brain’s feel-good hormones that produce a more relaxed state in your body, helping you to kiss and make up.” Here are some more etiquette rules everyone should follow when texting their partner.

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Issue long, one-sided diatribes

You’ve seen the memes before and nodded along in agreement: What is up with people who don’t respond to text messages?! Before you place all of the blame on them, consider your own fault in sending lengthy, continuous streams of text messages without waiting for the other person to respond. It’s not only bad phone etiquette but if you’re that upset, it’s worth a phone call. “You may be waiting for an answer from someone, but give them a break and don’t blow up their phone with excessive texts to get their attention,” Mandel says. “They may be busy, or in an area where there is no Wi-Fi, so your messages are not going through. And by over-texting, you’ll just irritate them and appear desperate.” If you don’t hear from someone, call them or send an email instead. Next, find out the cell phone etiquette rules you should be following but aren’t.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest