Practical Communication

The Do’s and Don’ts of Staying in Touch

I wrote this blog post when my daughter, now a rising junior, first went off to college. For those whose children will be going off to college in a few short weeks, it’s important that you establish communication expectations in advance, to avoid anger, frustration, and damage to your fledgling long-distance relationship. However, these tips are also helpful with any relationship where peoples’ communication expectations may differ.



I just returned from dropping off my one-and-only child at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As it will be her first year away at school, our parting conversation concerned communication—how and when we’d call, email, text, etc. In other words, “the rules.” I think she might have been concerned I was going to become Stalker Mom.

At first, I was informed we’d only be communicating on Sundays. However, by midday of her first day of classes, I’d received at least five text messages with updates about her courses, professors, what she’d eaten for breakfast, and more—and it was only Monday. Who’s the stalker here?

As I was reading the last text of the day, I starting thinking about how easy it is these days to communicate with each other. We have 24-7 instantaneous access to the people in our lives. We can call text, email, Skype, Tweet, and more— whenever and wherever we want. If I want to Skype my daughter, I can do it with a push of a key. It doesn’t matter if she’s jogging down Pennsylvania Avenue with the President—I can “catch her” on her iPhone.

Which brings me to my point– just because we have so many ways to contact others  and can reach them 24-7, does that mean we should? What are the rules of frequency and method (landline, text, email, cell phone, etc.) for contacting family members, friends, coworkers, or clients?

The bottom line is, there really are no rules other than those we establish with the other party. You might read about etiquette rules for some aspects of communication frequency and method, but that doesn’t mean the people in your life follow those rules.

So here are a few do’s and don’ts for determining when, how, and how often, we should communicate with the people in our lives.

Do- share your communication needs with others.

You might need weekly input from a vendor, want an elderly parent to check in daily, and your daughter who just got her driver’s license yesterday to check in on the hour. I have a 9 p.m. phone call rule. If you’re going to call me after 9 p.m., it had better be an emergency, because I consider the time after 9 p.m. my “down time.” However, some people are perfectly happy being called at 11 p.m. or later. We all just need to share our “rules” or needs.

Don’t- assume others share your communication needs.

Your elderly parent might bristle at being “required” to check in daily, or your vendor might be too busy to write a detailed report every week. However, by talking with each other about what we need, we can usually come to a mutually acceptable frequency of communication.

Do- ask others about their preferred method of communication.

Your client might not want to receive text messages because he or she won’t be able to archive the communication. On the other hand, your oldest child who is off at college will likely prefer text communication rather than you calling and embarrassing him in front of friends.

Don’t- assume that just because people don’t tell you they prefer a certain communication method, or prefer to be contacted certain times of day, that they don’t have those preferences. ASK!

You may have clients who would prefer you to call mid-afternoon when things are less busy, or certain days of the week when staffing is high. Additionally, friends or coworkers may be “out and about” much of the day and may not want to use their personal cell phone minutes to talk. They may prefer that you send an email so they save cell minutes and can get back with you once they’ve returned home or to the office.

Do- establish boundaries and stick to them.
Don’t take calls during meetings, while you’re driving (or walking), or when speaking with someone else “in person.” If you want to create “rules” for when and how you’ll accept contact- that’s great.  However, if you create boundaries and break them, not only is it rude (and in the case of driving, unsafe), but people will never respect your alleged boundaries again.

Don’t- get angry or upset when others set boundaries for themselves.

A friend recently said, “I can’t believe (unnamed friend) doesn’t answer the phone after 8 pm. Who goes to bed at 8?” It doesn’t matter what the person is doing after 8 pm. Maybe she just doesn’t want to talk. One of my best friend is a police dispatcher. Her job requires her to talk on the phone all day. Sometimes, she just doesn’t want to talk any more at the end of a long shift- and I respect that!

As I said, there are no hard-and-fast rules. If we share our needs, establish expectations, and even possibly set schedules—we can find the right time and right method of communication that will keep everyone satisfied.

If you get a moment, comment and share some of your “rules,” preferences, or pet peeves related to communication methods and frequency.

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