Secret ingredients to quality software

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Rules to Better IM - 20 Rules

Whether you are chatting to a client on Teams or your friend on WeChat... These are the most common things that can improve your communication.

  1. When somebody sends you an IM message, they are interrupting you.

    When somebody sends you an email, they are not interrupting you - assuming you keep your notifications off as per Do you minimize your Outlook Distractions? You have made the decision to read your emails, so email is in actual fact far more polite than IM which can be a nuisance.

    IM is only to be used if they would like you to do something NOW.

    Tip: If someone pings you on IM (Teams / Skype) for non-urgent tasks, call the person out gently and let them know: "Since I don’t need to do this today, maybe an email would be better".

  2. Dealing with distractions is a fundamental rule to a successful project. Microsoft Teams is a great way to get distracted. Following these options helps you to minimize message distractions:

    1. Turn on at start-up - With the application always on your desktop, there is no reason for alerts to be sent to your email or phone
    2. Disable email alerts - this reduces bloat in your task list

    Teams 1 FindNotifications
    Figure: Open options (select image in the bottom right) | Notifications

    Teams 2 SetNotifications
    Figure: Set settings to "Only show in feed" so distracting phone and email alerts aren't sent

    Teams 4 ApplicationSettings
    Figure: In Microsoft Teams turn on "Auto-start application". Suggestion to Microsoft: Make this the default

  3. Do you ask the question straight away?

    Please don't say just 'Hello' in chat. It's as if you called someone on the phone and said "Hi!" and then put them on hold!

    When someone does that they're simply making the other person wait for you to phrase your question, which generates low productivity.

    Video: Hear from Adam Cogan as he talks about a common mistake on IM - just saying "Hey" or "Hello" without explaining the context.

    The same goes for:

    • "Hey, are you there?"
    • "Hi Bob, do you have a sec?"
    • "Ping"

    Instead of doing this, just ask the question!

    Asking your question before getting any reply allows asynchronous communication. If the other party is away, and you leave before they come back, they can still answer your question, instead of just staring at a "Hello" and wondering what they missed.

    Even better, don't start cold if the conversation has a history... Remember everyone likes breathing space, so say:

    • "Calling in 5 minutes. See the PBI: [URL]
    • "Calling in 5 minutes. See email subject: [Email subject]

    More info:

  4. Do you avoid sending unnecessary messages?

    Sending an unnecessary Instant Message is a distraction to the person you sent it to. As the 5 word rule on emails, if your message is less than 5 words, e.g. "Great work!" or "Thanks!", it's probably not required.

    Exceptions to this rule are when acknowledgement of the IM is required. We use IM in the office to notify that "John from F1 is on line 1." If the respondent doesn't say "OK - checking now" promptly we have to get up and go find them so John isn't left hanging on the line.

    Another way to give an acknowledgement of understanding is to just "like" the message.

  5. Always start your answer to a question with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ first, then follow that with your opinion.

    Adam: Did you deploy that bug fix?

    George: We deployed 3 times yesterday and one of the deployments took ages and so we optimized the Azure DevOps pipeline, so now a database change has gone from 35 minutes to just 2 minutes to deploy. We’ll get all the remaining items resolved in the next few days.

    Bad example - We have to infer the answer... if it is there at all!

    George: No, as we had issues, but well get that one done after lunch today. FYI we deployed 3 times yesterday and one of the deployments took ages and so we optimized the Azure DevOps pipeline, so now a database change has gone from 35 minutes to just 2 minutes to deploy. We’ll get all the remaining items resolved in the next few days.

    Good example - the question is answered clearly in the start

  6. Sometimes people fire a few questions at you and the tendency is to answer the last question first. A clear approach if you receive more than 1 question in an IM chat, is to answer each question in order, keeping the conversation is clearer. It's also a good idea to repeat the keywords of each question in your answer so there is no chance of confusion.

    - Adam Cogan: Welcome back from your holiday.  How many items in your inbox? Can you give me the link for better IM rules? When is your next client work?
    - Tiago Araujo:  Next Monday on Northwind
    Will for for Northwind. I have 85 items in my inbox and the link is

    Figure: Bad example - We have to find the answer one by one

    - Adam Cogan: Welcome back from your holiday. How many items in your inbox? Can you give me the link for better IM rules? When is your next client work?
    - Tiago Araujo: I have 85 items in my inbox
    - Tiago Araujo: Here is the link:
    - Tiago Araujo: I start working for Northwind next Monday.

    Figure: Good example - the question is answered orderly 

  7. If the message you type has a mistake, update it (or delete it) so the recipient doesn't see the mistake.

    Screen Shot 2018 12 11 at 1 52 42 PM
    Figure: "Edit" and "Delete" are options after you type a message

  8. When you realize the communication is not simple and there it is going to take much back and forth IMs, say "Can I call?" and continue the conversation through voice.

    Communication using voice is much faster than typing a message and it can clear misunderstandings. Encourage people to switch to voice if possible.


    Adam Cogan:  Did you say to me, you would contact Tiago on Skype to do it collaboratively... rather than email?

    Danijel Malik:  I agreed I'll contact them over Skype as suggested by Drew

    Adam Cogan:  Isn't that what I just said? (and you said you were sending emails)

    Danijel Malik:  Hold on...I don't understand you anymore, can we switch to voice?

    Then follow Do you send "As Per Our Conversation" emails?

  9. If it’s not urgent, before calling ping someone on IM first with "can I call you now?", because they might be with a client, or in a session.

    If it is urgent or you are blocked, then proceed with a warning “Calling you in 5 mins to talk about xxx”.

  10. Always do a quick investigation before asking for help. When asking a question using IM, always start your conversation with "I have googled this and no luck".

    IM can interrupt a person when they are busy, so make sure that you are well prepared and have tried to find the solution another way first.

    Figure: Don't make someone else have to Google something for you

  11. Use IM to chase up that important email. You can make it easy for everyone (or at least give them the context of your questions) by pasting the email subject.

    I sent you an email just now, please approve

    Figure: Bad example - client need to filter his emails manually

    I need you to reply to my email... Subject: CBA Software Audit

    Figure: Good example - client can search your email based on the subject

  12. First of all, understand that IM is distracting so use it judiciously. However, IM is great when an email is unclear or you have an additional question about the email that is stopping you from sending a 'done'. IM is great for reminding people and is excellent to push the important things... especially for people who ignore emails!

    The golden rule is do not send a task on Teams (IM)!

    Dealing with external clients 

    During the course of an IM chat with a client or manager, an action or a piece of work may be required. It's highly important that such chats are copied from the chat and pasted into an email.

    For example:

    "As per our IM conversation, I will XXX." 

    When you copy and paste a IM conversation into an email remember the following:

    1. Who are you sending the email to? Is there any private information that should not be shared with the group?
    2. Have you asked for permission to copy the IM conversation into an email? The other party may not want to share it in an email
    3. Does the conversation add value to the email or can it be left out?
    4. If you decide to copy the conversation then make sure you edit it so it is easy to read and relevant

    Make it readable by snipping out just the important information and Cc relevant parties. (See rule on Snipping for more information).

    Dealing internally

    If you get an internal IM that should be an email, don't simply convert it into in an email as above - be a standard watchdog and let the other person know that they should send emails instead of instant messages:

    "Hi xxx, next time an email would have been less distracting.

    For things like this - that are clearly tasks, and require a 'done' - please send an email straight away as per"

  13. Once you have decided to put an IM chat into an email or manager may suggest a course of action or a piece of work that they would like completed. It's highly important that such chats are copied from the chat screen, pasted into an email, and sent to the client or manager with a note: "Confirming our IM chat this morning", and CC'ing anyone else who is relevant. Don't just paste the whole conversation into an email.Snip the relevant information only. You can do this by:

    1. Deleting junk that is not related to the conversation
    2. Deleting repetitive junk that makes it hard to read (like peoples’ names)
    3. Adding a line break between people and highlighting the person's name in bold

    Bad Example of IM snip
    Figure: Bad example - this IM snip has a lot of unnecessary text that makes it hard to read

    Good Example of IM snip
    Figure: Good example - snipped and formatted

  14. Dealing with distractions is a fundamental rule to a successful project. Skype is a great way to get distracted. Following these options helps you to minimize messaging/communication distractions:

    1. Set your status to Busy - people will think twice before messaging you
    2. Don't display an alert when a contact comes online or goes offline
    3. Don't play a sound when you receive an email. Remember - you do need a sound when you receive an IM in case you're not looking at your PC when it arrives.

    minimize skype distractions
    Figure: Minimize Skype alerts you receive

  15. In person conversations are much better than chats over the phone. Skype or Teams calls with video cams are great, but you won’t do that all the time for bandwidth and processing power reasons. The next best thing is to have a great professional picture of yourself.

    • Avoid using a built-in image
    • Ideally, have a photo that shows head and top of shoulders close up. Not too far away
    • Your face must not be obstructed with other objects or excessive head cover (e.g. ski mask)
    • Not blurred, pixelated, washed out or over-exposed image. You should be recognizable in your high quality picture
    • An actual photo of yourself. Not a cartoon, objects or family member(s)

    Bad Skype profile image default
    Bad profile image - using default image

    Bad Skype profile image too far away
    Bad profile image - picture taken from too far away

    Good Skype profile image
    Good profile image

  16. Display - Do you show your phone number?

    Using instant messengering applications is all about communication. If something is urgent and you are not answering IMs, it is likely the next thing the person will do is to start looking for your phone number. Make it easy for them by adding your phone number to your Skype profile.

    Bad Example no number
    Figure: Bad example - To contact this person via the phone I will have to ask them for their number

    Good Example numbers listed
    Figure: Good example - People are showing their phone numbers to allow urgent issues to be resolved

    Note : Before you make phone calls, see our Do you prepare, then confirm conversations/decisions?

  17. display your company name
    Figure: Display your company name and location

    Using your company name as part of your Display Name has the double advantage of firstly branding, and secondly, indicating to other parties that your IM account is for work purposes.

    Be aware that while you can change your display name, Skype doesn't allow you to rename the account... So use your full name. If you just use "Peter", then people can't distinguish you from the 3 other Peters they have.

    Tip: If you travel around people often will ask you "Where are you?" You can avoid this by putting the square brackets where you currently are. E.g. [SSW Brisbane] or [Cisco Melbourne]

    Do you use your personal message to share good news with your contacts?

  18. Your personal message can be used to promote good news stories of recent work you have done.

    Especially when you have many clients added as IM contacts, what better group of people to share the good news with?

    Your personal message should be simple, to the point, and make sure you change it at least once a month!

    Use your Persona  Message to share good news
    Figure: Use your Personal Message to share the good news

  19. According to Sydney Morning Herald's "Flame emails missing the mark":

    "The senders of email messages expected their partners to correctly interpret their tone nearly 80% of the time, but in fact, they only scored just over 50%... Those attempting to interpret the message believed they had scored 90% accuracy".

    Because there is no "tone of voice" in an email, sarcasm can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver. You can use a smiley face or emoji to soften it up a bit.

    Bad example: This is bad because it may seem like John is being reprimanded, even though the sender may just be giving him a "heads up" for next time

    Good example: Be friendly by adding a greeting. When in doubt, use a smiley face at the end of the comment

  20. IM conversations often can be as important as emails, if not more so, because they are usually only used for high priority issues or issues that need to be resolved now. Therefore, it is very important to keep history of all your IM conversations. They can often be used as a reference point, or as a digital log of all the important issues that have been discussed. In fact, you can be guaranteed that you will want to revisit something you have discussed before with other employees.

    save skype conversation history forever
    Figure: You can find the option to save your conversation history in your Skype options under IM & SMS | IM Settings

    Once this option is turned on, Skype will keep the last 3 months of your conversation history in the app - just scroll up to see older conversations. For conversations older than 3 months, the conversations are saved in a file called main.db in your Skype folder. The location of this folder depends on your OS and which version of Skype you are running. Visit the Skype FAQ to find out more.

    The only exception to this rule of course is when you're using a public computer, in which case privacy and security issues arise by keeping IM history on that computer.

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