Send a complete message, not a stream-of-consciousness dribble

The Slack DM etiquette your busy coworkers wish you’d follow

Liron Shapira
5 min readOct 7, 2020

When you start a new DM conversation on Slack, the proper etiquette is to send a complete message with enough information for your coworker to reply to or take action on. A complete message looks like this:

Tom: Hey Liron, is it cool if Gil from sales takes the client out to dinner on the company card? What’s the max we can reimburse? Here’s a link to the sales team’s procedure document, maybe we can give them some general guidance on how to handle these situations. [Link]

If Tom is gracious enough to send me a complete message like this, I can reply with a quick “Sure, $500”. Or I can smoothly turn it into a longer discussion: “Hmm, how many of our clients are we planning to do these dinners with?”

But if Tom has terrible Slack etiquette, then I have to live through this nightmare DM interaction:

Tom: Hey, question about Gil from sales. I dunno if he talked to you at some point already?

Tom is typing…

Tom: He was wondering, since his client is in town next week

Tom is typing…

Tom: How about taking him to dinner?

Tom: Is that something the company would reimburse?

Liron is typing…

Tom is typing…

Liron: maybe, what’s the link to the sales procedures doc?

Tom: What’s the max reimbursement for a sales dinner?

Tom: [Sales procedure doc link]

This time, instead of composing a complete message, Tom dribbles out his stream of consciousness over multiple messages, thereby annoying the shit out of his hypothetical coworker “Liron”.

Dribbling is when you begin a Slack DM conversation with your coworker by writing whatever your stream of consciousness dictates, resulting in a flaccid first message that lacks an actionable stimulus.

The worst kind of dribble

The worst kind of dribble is also the most common: the I-was-born-in-the-1900s-and-not-accustomed-to-ubiquitous-asynchronous-instant-messaging greeting boilerplate:

  • Hey Liron how’s it going?
  • Do you have a minute?
  • Hey, quick question for you

In the sender’s mind, they’re just being pleasant and giving the recipient a heads up that they’re about to send a longer message. But think about what’s currently happening in your coworker’s busy workday:

  1. They’re busy doing something else
  2. They get the greeting message. Now their attention to the previous task is interrupted, and instead they’re loading your message into their brain.
  3. They realize that the first message is just a dribble, and you haven’t given them an actionable stimulus, so they try to go back to their previous task while standing by for more of your dribbles. But they can’t do their previous task as effectively, because they’re distracted by the anticipation of what you’re going to say next.

You can drag your busy coworker on like this for a minute, five minutes, even 10+ minutes, until you finally dribble out a complete enough thought for them to reply to or take action on. That’s a frustrating extra drain on their valuable attention.

Attention is money

When you’re dealing with a busy person, keep in mind that their attention is their most precious and limited resource. Each day they come to work, they only have a fixed supply of attention-moments to spend. When they give you their attention, it’s very much like they’re giving you their money.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a coworker’s attention-money. It’s perfectly fine and good to do — as long as you’re enhancing their productivity by sending them a fully-baked first message. In that case, it’s like the attention they give you is an investment with an attractive payoff for them and for your company. If you follow the right Slack etiquette, then your messages will be productive and work-appropriate.

This isn’t OnlyFans

What’s not work-appropriate is to lean into your coworker’s DM window, unfasten your brainstraps, and dribble.

Do you get off on charging your coworker a $20 attentional cover so they can watch you rubbing neurons together for 3–5 minutes until you ejaculate your stream of consciousness message? Then you don’t get what it’s like to be a busy person. The high-ROI “money shot” that busy people crave is a message that’s complete enough to be informative and actionable.

So why don’t busy people just turn off notifications and then deal with them in batches?

Busy people should turn off any kind of notifications that interrupt their focus. I personally set my Slack to hold off on alerts for 30–60 minutes at a time when I’m doing a task that requires concentration.

But when they’re not working on a task that requires deep focus, busy people are typically open to interruptions that can be dealt with quickly. A new notification might capture my attention and take me just 30 seconds to absorb and act on whatever information it contains. I’m happy to fit that into my workflow of rapidly knocking down todo list items.

But if I have to sit there for a few minutes while you’re dribbling out your message, I don’t feel productive during that time. I’m frustrated because your first message was such a waste of a notification, and I wish I didn’t have to preemptively allocate my mental resources to it.

The Slack etiquette your busy coworkers wish you’d follow:

Don’t make your coworker give you their attention to look at your unfinished dribble. Don’t make them sit and wait for you to finish your thought. Always start new Slack DM conversations by sending a complete message.