As politely as possible, says Nasrine Shah-Abushakra, PhD. She’s a consultant in cross-cultural etiquette and communications who explores how the internet is altering the way we communicate. It’s creating new rules, she says, and new reasons for them. Her recent book, Netiquette: Modern Manners for a Modern World, addresses these issues.
“Netiquette” is tricky, says Shah-Abushakra, because digital messaging eliminates the nonverbal part of conversation, “which is usually about 80 percent of the message. People aren’t able to pick up on the cues that can soften our communication.”
She says this makes considerate behavior even more important, especially given that norms of politeness have declined in the digital age. “As technology becomes more mainstream, we need to focus more closely on the human connection.”
One polite way to deal with excessive group messages is to disable push notifications for that chain, and periodically monitor the conversation. You may miss the occasional time-sensitive alert directed to you alone, but it stops the constant dinging.
If you’d prefer to leave the conversation altogether, Shah-Abushakra recommends that you avoid criticizing the group. They’re not at fault; you simply have specific needs with respect to your phone.
One useful way to frame your departure is to refer to digital capacity, which is a common concern. “You can say something along the lines of ‘I’ve really enjoyed being in this group, but there have been a lot of messages, and I need to make sure I’m not overloading my storage, because I have to use the phone for work, or family needs, and so on.’” You could also point out that you can’t afford to be distracted by messages while at work.
It never hurts to be humorous and self-effacing, she adds. You might make a joke about how you’re easily overwhelmed, or send a GIF that expresses regret for signing off.
If you’ve done what you can to be kind and considerate, and a member of the group still expresses hurt feelings or judges you as snobbish, that’s not your problem, Shah-Abushakra says.
“There are people who will take your exit personally no matter what. It’s a basic rule of living that you can’t make everybody happy all the time.
“You can certainly say, ‘I’m sorry my decision makes you unhappy’ — that’s basic good manners,” she adds. “But you don’t owe them a further explanation. You have a right to protect your time.”
This originally appeared as “My friends often include me on group messages, and my phone gets overrun with texts. How do I excuse myself?” in the November 2018 print issue of Experience Life.