Why are people so bad at texting? The psychology behind bad texters, explained

Why are some people so bad at texting back? Experts weigh in on why bad texters exist, and how not to take it too personally. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Why are some people so bad at texting back? Experts weigh in on why bad texters exist, and how not to take it too personally. (Photo: Getty Creative)

For many of us, texting is our primary form of communication. It’s a quick way to schedule a plan, get an opinion on a paint color and even just vent about our latest life annoyance. But not everyone is so keen on texting. You may know the type: They’re the ones who wait days, if not longer, before responding to your message — and, once they do, it’s with a simple "K." These so-called "bad texters" often drive those who do enjoy texting as a means of communication crazy — mostly because, when someone doesn't respond to texts the way we would, we're unsure about their intentions.

Photographer Megan Moore is one such person who doesn't respond right away to texts. "[My friends and family] used to think that I didn't want to talk to them at all, that I just didn't want to be friends. I always did want friends, but I have just always preferred calling or seeing people in person."

Moore said she sometimes tries to change her texting habits, explaining, "Some days, I decide that I want to be 'better' at it, so I will go through all of my unread messages, some of which date months back, and I will religiously reply to each one. I am then so mentally drained by the end of that day because I will instantly receive replies back from everyone, which means that I could be sending around thirty messages a day, which is a lot for me. Then, because I am so drained, I avoid my phone the next day, and the cycle begins again."

Chloe Choe, who's a software engineer in Southern California, says it's her busy schedule and preferred communication style that keeps her from responding back — and she has no interest in changing that.

"I don't particularly desire to get 'better' at texting because I feel like everyone has busy schedules that they need to tend to," she says. "I'm always quick to respond to urgent matters and am usually considered a bad texter for many small talk conversations, which I'd much rather have in person."

Joseph Greene, CEO and founder of travel company Trinidad Birding, agrees.

"I would much rather someone call me than text me, especially out of work hours," he says. "I like to have a proper conversation with people than just words on a screen. One thing I want people to know about bad texters is that we don't hate you — we aren't bad at texting because we don't want to talk to you, we just don't want to text!"

It’s true that most of the time, bad texters don't actually hate the person they're texting (or, more often, not texting). So why does it sting so much?

"Texting is often viewed as a conversation, in contrast to something like a post on social media. Conversations imply two-way exchange in a relatively short time period. The ability of texts to transmit instantly means that as the sender, I am aware of having 'spoken' and, applying our innate 'rules of conversation' logic, am expecting you, the receiver, to pay attention to what I sent," explains Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. "When you do not receive a response, I must consider what that means. When I know someone, I am likely to have a sense of their day and obligations and while I may find a lag inconvenient, my feelings aren’t hurt, or my self-esteem undermined. However, the more invested I am in my connection you, the more I am likely to interpret the lag as lack of caring."

Yet as clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg points out, not everyone sees texting as an important form of communication and connection. If they spend time with you in real life or have another way of communicating with you, texting you back immediately may not even register with them as important.

"Some people have said to me that they didn't feel like [the person they were texting with] was wanting the response," she explains. "They felt like, 'Well, we're going to meet up on Saturday, so I will talk about this with them then.' There's a group of people who just don't feel like it needs to be answered in the moment and don't necessarily recognize what the other person wants that."

While bad texters typically refer to people who flake on responding, there are also people who do respond to texts, but do so in a way that leaves the recipient feeling cold. Assuming one has a good relationship with their “bad texter,” this is likely because this bad texter just hasn't mastered the art of texting to convey the proper emotion.

“Text messages that are intended to be positive, are interpreted as more neutral than they're intended to be,” Greenberg notes. “And neutral messages are interpreted as more negative than they're intended to be. There's many misunderstandings that happen during texting, and I think a lot of people are aware of that, so they shy away from texting. It often gets interpreted as rude, but for a lot of people, it's just not their preferred modality.”

For those who are bothered by their friend’s texting communication, Amanda Albert, founder & CEO of mobile marketing agency Vanda Solutions, offers some words of wisdom.

"If you have a bad texter in your life, look at who they are in person and over the phone as a baseline for their demeanor and how they react and so if they're blunt or come off as chilly only in text, chalk it up to them just firing off a basic response and know that they aren't mad at you," she says. "If it still bothers you, gently mention how you feel about their text style in person, not over text. You'll most likely hear the bad texter say that's how they respond to everyone and they didn't mean to cause you, or anyone else, to feel put off or anxious by their communication style."

And if you are the bad texter — in that your responses tend to be short, sporadic, and not particularly warm-and-fuzzy — there are some tips that may make you come across as a better texter.

"If you're being told you're a bad texter and on the receiving end of this awkward conversation with a friend or family member, know that throwing in a few exclamation points, positive emojis or a little more warmth in your texts would go a long way," Albert explains. "I've seen these kinds of miscommunications play out with clients as well as with my own network and learned that the vast majority of times, the bad texter doesn't know they're 'bad' until someone close to them brings it up. And if they really are upset at you for some reason, well, that's a whole other problem...but don't deal with it over text, talk in person!"

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.