Texting: A Legitimate Mode of Professional Communication

Communicating via mobile texts is no longer the exception it is the rule. Texting has drastically risen in popularity over the last five years. The sound of a whistle, duck quacking, or a subtle vibrate send people scrambling to check their phone for an incoming message. Texting has transformed human behavior and interaction forever. Widely known as a casual form of communication, texting has now infiltrated the workplace and is considered a legitimate mode of professional communication.

Guidelines pertaining to texting in the workplace are still developing despite its rapid growth and acceptance. An opportunity to send a client, colleague, or superior a text message can result in the same anxiety as when you find yourself in an extravagant restaurant staring at an excessive amount of silverware.

While choosing the dessert fork over the salad fork seems trivial, making that mistake can be detrimental to your image as a professional. Those who are polished in the area of etiquette indirectly portray that they are also polished in life. Similarly, a poorly crafted text can send the same message. Texting has evolved into more than a casual form of communication. Despite its evolution it remains a sticky medium but its convenience remains irresistible to busy professionals.

Texting is used heavily, with nearly 41.5 messages sent per day by the average user, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Few texts follow standard rules of grammar. Many avid texters have mastered the gift of shorthand. In some cases, these abbreviations and phrases more closely resemble a foreign language. You should never assume your boss, colleague, or client knows that “YIU” means “Yes, I understand” or “WYHAM CM” means “When you have a minute, call me.” Thousands of phrases just like these are popular in texting and while they might be fitting between friends, your superior can misinterpret them.

Directly or indirectly, each workplace culture sets a standard of professionalism. While one business considers texting a normal practice of communication, another deems it taboo. Many shy away from texting because of the casual image it portrays. Depending on the profession, overusing texting can detract from a company’s professional presence and under-usage can be equally detrimental.

The first text, or SMS (Short Message Service), was sent in December 1992. It was a casual greeting sent by a young engineer named Neil Papworth to his good friend Richard Jarvis. The message simply read, “Merry Christmas.” Papworth did not use any abbreviations. Papworth developed this technology so company staff could send simple messages to one another. Papworth sent the message from his work computer unaware that he just opened the door to a new revolution of communicating. Nearly 20 years later, it is the most efficient communication tool, as well as a multibillion-dollar business.

I was initially slow or perhaps resistant to texting, because I did not understand its practical use. I supported my “flip” phone for years, despite the wise cracks I received. I had a sense of pride in proving that I could survive personally and professionally without a smart phone. I used my phone for its true and original intent – to call people. My phone was capable of texting. However, I was limited to a standard 10-button keypad, making texting a monotonous task.

History has proven that humans have an innate creativity when it comes to communicating. The human race has come a long way in the area of telecommunication. My memory reaches only as far as pagers, also known as beepers. Pagers now seem archaic in comparison to more recent technology. Prior to cell phones, those with a pager were limited to only receiving call back numbers. All you had were 10 digits to decipher whether it was a true emergency, or warranted the effort to locate a landline.

Early forms of texting eventually occurred via pagers. In an effort to free us, numerical codes were created so communication could transpire immediately rather than through a call back. Below are examples to jog your memory or expose you, for the first time, to the early forms of texting:

121 = I need to talk to you

123 = I miss you

143 = I love you

220 = Why haven’t you called?

221 = Where are you?

Yes, they even had a numerical code for “BFF;” 477 was the code for “Best friends forever.” There were even numerical codes that spelled out words if your device was held upside-down. For example, the digits 17_31707_1 if viewed upside-down spell out (with a stretch) “I love you.” Until the adoption of mobile phones in the 1990s, pagers were the primary mode of personal communication. The inverted creativity had to persist until the bounds were broken with the use of cell phones. There is no longer a need to hold our devices upside-down to read the message, but the creativity persists. Abbreviations and acronyms have found themselves a home in the modern texting world as well.

If you are not up to speed on the thousands of abbreviations and acronyms used in texting you might need a teenage interpreter to read some of the texts you receive. Cracking these codes remind me of times on the freeway when I see a vanity license plate and it takes the brain power of everyone in the car to identify what that person is trying to communicate. Texting can also leave a lot for interpretation and plenty of room for error. Professional texts must follow standard grammatical rules and a rule of thumb is to spell everything out in a business text to avoid misinterpretation. After all, you do not want to make the wrong impression upon the person who has control over your monthly income. I am strongly discouraging, or rather pleading, that you omit the use of acronyms and abbreviations in professional texts. But in an effort to not be too stiff, I grant you full reign with your texts written for family and friends. So for fun, enjoy the following website to catch you up to speed on the most popular texting acronyms and abbreviations:

http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp

 

10 tips to professionalize your texts and texting habits

1.     Practice self-control

We send texts repeatedly to our friends and family without regard to the importance of the information. In the professional world the communication floodgates are not as wide open to send texts about anything and everything. You need to take a breath and ask yourself: Should I send this text? Would it be better if we spoke about this topic over the phone? Would a face-to-face conversation be more appropriate? If the information is simple in nature, then by all means text it. If the message has to be sent in multiple texts or exceeds 140 characters, the answer is clear, wait.

Be careful not to send personal text messages on a company phone. Text messages travel via cell phone lines or the Internet, so when you hit “delete” they do not disappear. Due to recent Supreme Court cases, your employer may have the right to check what you are messaging and can use those texts against you, legally, professionally, or both.

2.     Keep excessive shorthand for personal text messages

Some are fluent in shorthand and effectively use it in their text messages. Regardless of how well you have perfected the art, the use of shorthand can be a different language to the receiver. This style of communication is common for the younger generation, but not everyone is on board yet. And frankly, I do not believe they should have to be. Text messages sent in the professional world need to be polished, free of shorthand. It should only be used if you are certain the recipient will know exactly what you mean. Short messages such as BRB (Be right back) and YW (You’re welcome) may appear obvious to you, but will not be understandable to everyone. As a rule of thumb, “If in doubt, spell it out.”

3.     Keep text messages clear and concise

Everyone dreads the lengthy email. The same goes for incoming texts. How often do you receive an email or a text and find yourself thinking, what is the point? When the text exceeds your screen space, you need to condense the message. If this seems impossible, then refer to rule No. 1 and wait. The ability to be clear and concise is a special skill. Stacy Blackman stated six tips for clear and concise business communication in the University of Pennsylvania Wharton magazine.

  1. Lead with your main point
  2. Cut the jargon
  3. Use short, direct sentences
  4. Read it aloud
  5. Use spell check
  6. Don’t overuse spell check

Below is the link to the full article:

http://whartonmagazine.com/blog/6-tips-for-clear-and-concise-business-communication/

4.     Send texts at appropriate times

Texting is a convenient way to communicate and is tempting to use at inappropriate times of the day. Therefore, that so-called urgent text you felt inclined to send at 1:30 a.m. indicating you would pick up bagels for tomorrow morning’s meeting could potentially bring your boss out of a deep sleep. You might need to bring more than bagels to remain employed. Keep business-related text messages close to normal working hours. Of course, if your boss texts you after hours, then rule No. 4 is “trumped” and it is appropriate to respond.

5.     Beware of typos

Check for spelling and grammatical errors by proofreading before you touch send. On a Smartphone you can simultaneously surf the web and talk with a friend. You would think it was smart enough to send a sensible text with no problem. If you have your phone setting set to auto-correct, you know your cell phone has free reign to mutate a word into something nonsensical or embarrassing.  It may lead to a good laugh between friends, but in the workplace, it can cause problems. Remember, text messaging is a casual mode of communication, but do not embarrass yourself by being too casual or allowing your phone to speak for you.

6.     Be sensitive to those without a texting plan

Yes, they do exist and they become furious when you repeatedly send them work-related texts at 30 cents a pop. They become even more irate when they choose to read your text only to find out you are simply announcing they are stuck in line at Starbucks and will be late, but will be sure to bring you a latte.

7.     Don’t text apologies or criticism

When you find yourself in a situation where an apology must be expressed or a criticism needs to be communicated, then do it face to face. If this is not possible, a personal letter or a well-crafted email is more appropriate. It is difficult to fully express yourself in a text and an apology or criticism requires human tone and expression. However, feel free to share good news via text. Compliments and accomplishments are also great to send as a quick text to boost someone’s day.

8.     Don’t get caught balancing a meeting and cyberspace

In Lore McManus’s news article “The new rude – texting reaches a professional tipping point,” she cities research showing nearly 100 percent of people surveyed believe that texting or emailing during business gatherings is inconsiderate, yet two-thirds do it anyway. It has been proven that dividing attention between competing stimuli causes a person to be less efficient and actually creates anxiety. Resist the temptation to keep checking your phone and stop trying to be engaged in two different things.

This rule extends beyond meetings. It is a good practice to set the phone aside whenever you are engaging with another. Doing this will send a long and lasting impression to the person you are with that they are more important than any incoming call, email, tweet or text. By the way, you are not fooling anyone by texting underneath the table.

The link to McManus’s full article is below:

http://www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog/article/new-rude-%E2%80%94-texting-reaches-professional-tipping-point

9.     Make sure your text does not have an underlying tone

It is nearly impossible to accurately interpret someone’s tone through a text but we all certainly try, which leads to assumptions. Choose your words carefully and stay away from humor or sarcasm, which is often misinterpreted. I had a colleague indicate to me in a return email that my font setting was set to 14 point and I often spelled words in all caps. He proceeded to tell me that while I probably meant no harm, my emails came across as yelling. This certainly was not my intention and I was unaware that my font size was so large. I was thankful for his feedback and immediately changed my font size and became conscious of my use of all caps. While this personal story refers to emailing it certainly applies to texting. If you are trying to yell at someone through a text, then it is better to re-evaluate your mode of communication. Take some time to collect your thoughts and share your feelings in person. We have been taught to think before we speak, so apply the same rule and think before you touch “send” because once it is gone you cannot retract it.

10.  Human connection remains the best form of communication

I have spent the majority of this paper convincing you there is a place in the workplace for texting and how to use it effectively and professionally. Despite the convenience of texting, it remains important to remember you are a human being. Avoiding in-person communication and sticking with the safety and predictability of texting only results in hiding from interaction. A young teen was quoted in The New York Times article “The Flight From Conversation” as saying, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.” If you are guilty of avoiding conversations and believe that a lot of online connection adds up to real conversation, then you have been deceived. You are missing out on truly understanding and knowing the people around you. Trust me, give traditional human connection a try and I promise you will feel more connected with people as you look them in the eye and communicate. I encourage you to read The New York Times article referenced above and linked below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

In conclusion, texting is a legitimate form of professional communication and is here to stay. Adaptation and integration is the key to infusing it into the workplace, but do it thoughtfully. Have a plan and adopt practices that are in line with company values. If used correctly texting can help promote the company brand.

Words of Wisdom from an Expert

The European Business Development Manager of Skull Candy and good friend, Traci Dimond, sat down with me to discuss how she manages texting in a multimillion dollar company. Skullcandy is a Park City, Utah-based company that “markets high-end headphones, earphones, hands free devices, audio backpacks, MP3 players and other audio enabled lifestyle products.” Diamond travels the world targeting consumers who associate with extreme sports to build a strong brand identity for Skullcandy. This company is the real deal and made the Inc. 5000 in 2011 at number 870. Inc. 5000 is a magazine that publishes an annual list of the 5000 fastest growing private companies. In 2011, Skullcandy experienced 354 percent growth over three years and earned $160.6 million in annual revenue with a goal of world domination. Due to travel, Dimond relies on her hand-held device to keep business rolling and had fun telling me how important texting is to her profession.

Traci Dimond, European Business Development Manager for Skullcandy

1.     Do you utilize texting as part of your current job?

(Laughing) Absolutely. Texting is a huge part of what I do. Our company is young and tech savvy. Text messaging is a common medium of communication. I have moments where I want to unplug and I believe it is important to do so to maintain work-life balance. My job is totally rewarding, so in times of craziness and constant vibration (referring to her phones vibrations) I have to remember that this is how we do business and you have to manage it like everything else. Over time, I have realized that not everything is an emergency and a text can wait.

The company uses email a lot but it is truly unrealistic to get to all of my emails every day. I received up to 200 to 300 emails in one day and they are full of information and attachments.  I could not possibly read them all and respond. I love that texting is quick and to the point and rarely exceeds 100 words, which is manageable. Plus, it is so nice to shoot a text to a group indicating we are having a meeting in five minutes in the boardroom and not have to call them all individually.  

2.     How important to your job function is communication via text?

There is no way I would be able to keep up with my job responsibilities if I didn’t text daily. My phone is another appendage and allows me to do my job wherever I am during the day. I have mellowed out as I have gotten older with how much I text. For instance, now when I go out to dinner I leave my phone in my car so that I can focus on the person that I am with (and yes, her phone was left in the car during our casual interview). It is so important to spend time away from your phone and know that the world will go on if you don’t immediately answer a text or call. Texting is really the way that Skullcandy does business because we travel so much. I spend two weeks out of every month in the office in Europe. I realized 14 uninterrupted hours in the air is the only way I can catch up with my email, but also results in a lot of texts waiting for me on the other end.

3.     Do you ever see miscommunication from poorly written texts?

Unfortunately, I see poorly written texts daily. I don’t necessarily see them from upper management but I do see them from people who obviously are not taking into consideration that they are no longer texting their best friend. I learned quickly you must communicate differently when texting friends and family versus your boss. I used a simple abbreviation in one of my texts to a colleague and he quickly text me back three question marks. Luckily, he thought it was funny but I learned quickly to spell things out. I see a lot of misspelled words, tons of wrong words that alter the message that most likely happen from auto-correct. I can see how these texting blunders could be very damaging in another workplace but with Skullcandy we have a casual and hip environment that is kosher to the modern and casual text language.

4.     What tips/rules do you try to follow to ensure your text is well received?

I am in the habit of reading my texts before I send them. I get plenty of bad texts to remind me that this is an important practice. I use abbreviations if appropriate but sparingly. I find myself mostly responding to text messages so I have to craft my responses appropriately depending on whom I am texting. Because of the high volume of texts I receive hourly I can be managing multiple conversations at one point, so another thing I need to be very careful of is to not send a return message to the wrong person. That is always embarrassing.

5.     What one thing would you suggest is the most important thing to make sure you do when sending a professional text?

My work environment is so unique, but the most important tip I feel that I can provide is to be respectful of people’s lives. I don’t want to receive a lame text any more than I want to send one, so be sure to always identify if you have to send the text. A lot of time it can wait and that is an area that I have matured a lot with. I used to fire off texts about everything just so I could get a quick response but not everything is an emergency any more and I really find myself evaluating if I need to send it and more often than not it can wait. I think people really appreciate that approach.

If you are interested in reading more…

  • The Relationship Between “Textisms” and Formal and Informal Writing Among Young Adults by Larry D. Rosen, Jennifer Chang, Lynne Erwin, L. Mark Carrier and Nancy A.Cheever, Communication Research 2010, provides the results to research that targeted whether the reported use of texting in daily electronic communication is related to the quality of writing among young adults and yes there are negative implications.
  • Texting as a Life Medium by Rich Ling in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is an interesting read about proven research that indicates that despite the heavy use of texting among the younger generation, texting is largely a life phase phenomenon.
  • Txt sux? Texting and Other Forms of Communication in Local Government Consultation by Ashleigh Jordan and Margie Comrie describes how local governments are taking advantage of the explosion in new technologies and communicating with their citizens.
  • Workplace Friendship in the Electronically Connected Organization by Patricia M. Sias, Hannah Pedersen, Erin B. Gallagher, and Irina Kopaneva in the 2012 Human Communication Research Journal. This article studies the dynamics between informational communication technologies and workplace friendship.
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