8 Rules For WhatsApp Group Chat Etiquette

8 Rules For WhatsApp Group Chat Etiquette

In the current climate, WhatsApp groups have become an important way of staying in touch. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few unspoken rules your friends, family or colleagues will thank you for remembering. Whether it’s knowing when to use humour or how to set boundaries, here’s what two leading psychologists had to say on the matter…


DO Moderate Your Own Behaviour

“Like any form of technology, there are pros and cons to using WhatsApp groups – they’re a good and easy way of staying in touch with people but they can also exert a high emotional burden in these troubling times. If you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, moderating the number of groups, time spent checking and replying to messages is important.” Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist

“We should all be mindful of the ways different people may respond to the posts we send them in our group. It might be that something that we feel is important for others to know induces great anxiety in them, and we should therefore be aware of this before posting.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya, consultant psychiatrist

DO Check The Facts

“Before sending a message, check your facts and make sure they’re accurate to avoid undue stress and anxiety. Only share information from reliable and dispassionate sources such as the World Health Organisation website. Online news items are written in such a way as to produce emotive headlines: even if the information is accurate, be mindful that these stories can produce anxiety. Remember other people in the group may be going through even more difficulties than may be apparent, so kindness and compassion is key. If you’re unsure of your wording, write the message in your notes, give it some room to breathe, then come back to it with new eyes. If you’re still uncertain whether the message might cause distress, err on the side of caution and rewrite it.” – Dr Meg Arroll

“To ensure we are only spreading factual information, verify its origin and stick to reliable sources such as governmental websites and other scientific agencies. The importance of this was highlighted recently after several people in the USA and Nigeria were hospitalised following chloroquine poisoning, having read reports about its possible use as a treatment against Covid-19 and self-medicating. Although the drug is being researched, there is not yet enough evidence to support its widespread use and such treatment should only be under medical supervision, a message clearly communicated by healthcare leaders.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya

DO Mimic Face-To-Face Behaviour

“Ask yourself ‘Would I say this or use this tone in person to an acquaintance?’ If you’re in work or school WhatsApp groups, phrase your message as professionally or appropriately as you would face to face. Being behind a touchscreen sometimes erodes the social norms we usually abide by so be mindful of your audience.” – Dr Meg Arroll

DO Set Some Ground Rules

“This is a delicate matter and, if possible, should be established when the group is set up. But if this opportunity has passed, follow some guidelines on how to have meaningful negotiations. Use first-person terms such as “I’m finding the information shared on the group quite stressful, so can we agree on what to share?” rather than more confrontational second-person terms like “What you’re sharing is inappropriate, please stop”. This more collaborative tone will also help the group come to a consensus. Try to avoid getting into a back-and-forth message rally and if this starts to happen, tell the group you’re taking a break to allow emotions to settle. It should go without saying, but always try to avoid personal comments in group messaging apps.” – Dr Meg Arroll

“Within group settings it could be useful to establish some ’rules of engagement’. Set boundaries for around the types of messages people are expected to post. For example, a WhatsApp group may focus on just providing encouragement and support for others, but it can also ask members not to post any medical information which is already accessible elsewhere.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya

DO Embrace The Mute Function If Necessary

“We should take advantage of other activities during this period so we don’t become obsessed with scrolling through our phones for fresh updates. For some people, this necessitates setting limits on how long they spend on WhatsApp, or the number of messages they send during a given time period. Another suggestion would be to take specific breaks from social media sites, deciding not to post for 24 or 48-hours, or muting notifications.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya

DON’T Ignore Your Limits

“Just as you would set boundaries in person, by stating your parameters openly and clearly you can let your WhatsApp group know you’ll only be checking messages at specific times each day. I would usually advise once in the morning and once in the afternoon, with the caveat that group members can contact an individual off group if there’s an emergency.” – Dr Meg Arroll

DON’T Forget Your Own Wellbeing

“We should all consider how much time we are spending on WhatsApp and weigh up the benefits versus the risks. If we are bombarding ourselves with messages, this can raise our levels of anxiety, make us feel ‘wired’, which can make it difficult for us sleep. We need to ensure that we are spending enough time away from our devices.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya

DON’T Shy Away From Humour – But Be Careful

“Humour is important in challenging times but again, be mindful of the members of the group and only use humour which would be appropriate in person – if you wouldn’t tell that joke at work, for instance, don’t share it in a company WhatsApp group.” – Dr Meg Arroll 

“WhatsApp and other social media platforms can be extremely helpful to stay connected to our family and friends, as well as in the dissemination of information. This includes practical information and updates about what is happening in relation to the pandemic, but we shouldn’t ignore lighter posts that help us to remain upbeat at a time like this.” – Dr Chi Chi Obuaya

Dr Chi Chi Obuaya, Consultant Psychiatrist at Doctify rated Nightingale Hospital, a Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Dr Meg Arroll is a chartered psychologist

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