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Corporate Conundrum: To Text or not to Text?

09/26/2013 06:13 EDT | Updated 11/24/2013 05:12 EST

Welcome to Corporate Conundrums, a weekly column providing practical advice for readers who need help dealing with workplace challenges. From handling incivility and unprofessionalism to learning how to how to work with a jerk, no topic is off-limits.

This week's conundrum comes from Steve, who writes, "The text messaging phenomenon has changed the way we communicate because it's fast, easy, and non-interruptive. But is it professional? Does texting enable us to develop the same kind of business relationships we cultivate through face-to-face conversations? Has eye contact been replaced with Wi-Fi contact?"

Hi Steve. Do you remember when your fingers used to do the walking? Well, now they do the talking. And that's not always a good thing. Because as much as portable electronic devices save time, money, and paper, they lose their value when we allow them to constantly interrupt, abbreviate, and minimize our discussions.

Interactions have changed dramatically with the evolution of "text-versations," those increasingly frenetic non-verbal exchanges we have with our thumbs rather than our tongues. It's fair to say that hi-tech advances have both helped and hindered our ability to communicate respectfully.

The way you express yourself is a critical factor in how others relate to you, especially at work. After all, the quality of your business relationships and the level of your success depend on what you say . . . and how you say it.

Here are 5 ways to balance your e-time with your we-time at work:

1. Diminish digital distractions. Be honest; is your constant electronic availability a self-imposed habit or an actual requirement of your job? Track the number of electronic interruptions you deal with on a daily basis, and establish how many fires you're putting out on the personal front while you're being paid to work. You may need to put some boundaries around how accessible you've allowed yourself to become.

2. Finish what you started. It's common to get distracted and lose track of discussion threads, so always bring your text-versations to a conclusion. Recipients can easily misinterpret the sudden termination of correspondence, just like they can misunderstand a cryptic text message that's composed and sent without thinking. Resultant rapid-fire responses often lead to major miscommunication maelstroms.

3. Pay Attention. Whether you're in the same room with them or not, people deserve your undivided attention. That requires focus. Texting during a meeting, for example, is not only insulting, it's unprofessional. Plus, when we text, others can't hear our tone of voice or sense our body language, so they tend to inject their interpretation into our words. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings.

4. Think before you connect. Before tapping your fingers on the screen, contemplate your options. Is a text message the most appropriate method of communication in this case, or would a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting be more efficient? Choose the most powerful way to get your message across.

5. Maintain accuracy. The brevity and convenience of text messaging has turned us into a society of deplorable spellers. Always remember that business communication is formal correspondence, no matter how it's sent. Aim for accuracy.

Texting can give us a sense of false confidence and inflated bravado. And despite the fact you may get tongue-tied when it's time for a sensitive discussion, being fully present for a conversation trumps being all thumbs for a text-versation.

If you have a corporate conundrum, let me know at conundrums@TheCivilityCEO.com. Your question could be featured in an upcoming column!