Reply when you can

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend. He was complaining about the expectation people have of receiving an instant reply whenever they send out a message. Although he and I laughed about it and joked about people who check whatsapp once a week, the conversation stayed in my head. My friend was making a very valid point: we feel the need to stay connected to data all the time and share the expectation that everyone else is. As a result, people expect you to reply messages as soon as they send them.

The problem with thinking that way is people get annoyed when they don’t get replies a few seconds after sending a message (especially if the app says the recipient is online). This would be funny except it has real world consequences for relationships. Everyone has a friend who is notorious for never replying messages on time. The one who fails to confirm they are available for the weekend hangout you planned and shows up at the last minute. We blame that friend for ruining our weekend plans. You all know of a couple who had a fight because one of them failed to reply a message until two hours later.

An open envelope with a loudspeaker coming out of it
You might as well shout “Reply when you see this.”

When people choose to reply a message is not something you can control. It is unwise to give yourself anxiety over other people’s reactions. More importantly, you need to be able to take a step back and realise a few things:

  1. That a person is online does not mean they are in the mood to reply. You don’t know where they are or what they are going through. Perhaps the recipient is angry and thought to wait a few hours before replying you so they don’t take out their anger on you. You should be grateful for their thoughtfulness.
  2. Being online does not mean a person is available to chat right now. Recently, work has invaded the social messaging space. We are all in office whatsapp groups. Someone might have come online to retrieve information for a task they are carrying out. They can’t reply you immediately because they have work to do.
  3. Partially, as a result of office whatsapp groups, a lot of people are starting to avoid that platform. Since it is now acceptable for your boss to send you a whatsapp message, depending on how often that happens, it might start to feel less like a platform for having discussions with friends and more like an extension of the office.
Mobile phone screen
Get used to waiting for replies

It is not advisable for anyone to stay online all the time and reply all messages as soon as they receive them. If you did that, you wouldn’t have the time for important tasks. The next time you send someone a message and they take a few hours to reply, give them the benefit of the doubt. That they failed to reply immediately doesn’t mean they don’t care. They had other things to do. If it was an emergency, you probably wouldn’t have sent it as a message anyway so why give yourself anxiety? As my friend put it (with some paraphrasing) “Resist the pressure of always having to reply all messages. It’s ok to read a message and not reply until you have the time to do so.” That is one behaviour we need to normalise.

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