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I have a colleague who I don't believe has worked with Slack or similar services before. We are on the same team and same level in the company heirarchy.

This colleague DMs me frequently to ask questions, which is fine and expected. However, they're in the habit of sending 2-3 lead-in messages before their actual question and 1-2 messages thanking me for my response afterwards. I don't want to be rude or discourage them from asking questions or making friendly conversation, but this is obviously quite distracting. They also tend to send a second message to a channel if they've missed information in their first message, rather than editing it or starting a thread, and tend not to use threads unless someone else did first.

The extra notifications and waiting for follow-up adds up throughout the day, but as I'm not this person's supervisor, I'm unsure how to approach them to send them a Slack etiquette guide without being horribly rude. It seems like a petty thing to bring up to our mutual manager.

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4 Answers 4

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A couple of suggestions:

  • Mention it causually to them the next time it happens: "Hey, I appreciate the small talk and conversation, but having it every time one of us needs clarification or has a question about something is distracting me a lot. Could we skip it most of the time so we stay on topic?" One of my former managers approached MS Teams etiquette this way when he needed me to stop liking his posts as a response instead of sending a brief message.
  • If all else fails and, as you say, it is really distracting you, then it seems fair to talk to your manager about it. Part of a manager's job is to help facilitate communication between teammates and to make sure work isn't being held up.
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    Don't talk to your manager, this is not a problem you need hierarchy to solve. No manager needs needy employees who can't figure out how to im each other.
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 4 at 21:10
  • @TigerGuy that depends on how much of an interruption it is or how persistent they are about it. It shouldn't be your first option, and I'll edit the answer to reflect that, but if all else fails and it is really impeding your work then asking your manager about it would be appropriate. Aug 4 at 22:40
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    I think the underlying problem is that an email written shortly like this would be considered rude and other communication is wished to be short, this is hard to understand if no one tells you. But should telling really involve all kind of superiors? Why only was my first thought "no country tag needed" :-D
    – puck
    Aug 5 at 4:44
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This is a cultural thing.

It's not these people have poor etiquette, it's that they have a different cultural expectation from you. Their expectation is that it is normal and polite to have a brief conversation before getting down to business. You think getting right down to business is better because it's more efficient. They think some pleasantries are better because it's more polite and respectful. Neither of you are right or wrong as such.

I have a simple way of handling this - make my first reply polite, but also ask them politely what they want.

Them: Hi, how are you?

Me: Hi, I'm well. What can I do for you?

Them. I'm well too. I wanted to know what time that meeting tomorrow is.

Me. It's 3.30. See you there.

Them: Thank you.

The only slight issue I've ever had is that some people say "Hi" and then immediately a separate post "How are you?", meaning you reply to the first post while they are typing the second. This means the conversation goes like "Hi." "What can I do for you?" "How are you?" "Fine. What can I do for you?". My way of dealing with this is to wait a few seconds before replying the first time. Hopefully your tool tells you if they are typing.

You can try letting them know that you would prefer them to get right down to business, but I wouldn't push the point. How much of a problem is it really to spend three or four seconds replying to a message?

Also remember that "Hi, are you free to talk?" is actually a good thing if the question is not trivial.

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    It's not just pleasantries… I've had several colleagues who spread a question over several messages; after reading the first, I have to sit there and wait a minute or two for them to type all the rest. That's not enough time for me to return to what I was doing, but too long to sit there patiently waiting — and there's usually not enough initial info for me to start thinking about how to reply. It'd save a lot of time if they didn't hit Enter until they'd finished!
    – gidds
    Aug 4 at 22:32
  • PS. And it tends to be the people who type slowest (and/or think slowest) that are most likely to break up their question into small chunks and drip-feed them…
    – gidds
    Aug 4 at 22:34
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    It is an etiquette issue, though. It's the very first item in Slack's own etiquette guide. Aug 4 at 23:33
  • After the chat, you can also say "No need to thank me" or similar when someone says "thank you". It's also good to remember that you don't need to reply to an IM immediately, especially if it doesn't indicate any emergency - "Hi how are you?" does not require an urgent response, and if you wait a few minutes they may type some more.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 5 at 13:23
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Politely point them to nohello.net.

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  • It's funny because they start off with, "You wouldn't do this over the phone", but I have had people do this to me over the phone.
    – BSMP
    Aug 4 at 18:08
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    The nohello phone example is stupid. Everyone I know, when you answer the phone, spends a few seconds asking how you are. So "Yes I would do that on the phone". Aug 4 at 19:07
  • @DJClayworth, I think you may be misunderstanding what they tried to say. > People who do this are generally trying to be polite by not jumping right into the request, like one would in person or on the phone - and that's great! They are trying to say something along the lines of: "Having small talk over the phone is expected, but it doesn't translate well to async conversations like email or chat". Aug 11 at 4:45
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There is a website https://www.nohello.com/?m=0 that explains the problem. It is of course not a good idea to just post that at someone who has text “hello xxx how was your weekend?”. So what I do is call the person and explain to them “hey, just ask me a question with no ‘hello’ ... there is even a website nohello.com that explains this”. Amazingly about 50% of people ignore me and next time do exactly the same thing. At which point I reply “hi, please just ask me a question without saying hello.” most people then do. About one in ten still don't change their behaviour. After that I just post them the link to the no hello.com website and add a smile emoticon. That usually fixes it.

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    Just because there is a website for something doesn't make it a good idea. Even the Flat Earth Society has a website. Aug 6 at 23:05

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