Posted in Cross Cultural Communication

Toxic Texting

Recently, a client confided that his staff’s texting habits are beyond frustrating for him; that staff members “whip” out their cell phones and begin texting at any time, and at all times!

Sound familiar? Is this disrespectful or efficient?

This client assumed these texts were of a personal nature and he wondered why he was paying people to have personal conversations on his dime. Would these same people answer a personal phone call in the middle of a work conversation or meeting?

When is it okay to text at work?

Each of us is likely to have a different answer to that question, based on our generation, industry, function, economic status, and perhaps even where we live.

We know that some, perhaps many, of your texts are legitimate, work-related messages. Texting can be a quick and efficient way to have a work question answered, to find out where the meeting was re-located to, or to find out where a co-worker is if you need to find them.

Ask yourself:

What is your body language when you text? How do others interpret that? If you are smiling and chuckling, does that tell people around you that you’re having a personal conversation? If you look serious or are frowning, will other’s think your text is work-related?

What about if you are working independently in your cube or even in a group setting, what assumptions might people make when they walk by and see you texting?

Next time your phone alerts you to a new text, stop and consider what is going on around you.  Are you in a setting with other people who are expecting you to pay attention, to be engaged with them? If so, how are they likely to interpret your actions if you are distracted with texting? What do you suppose they are thinking about you and your commitment to the task at hand? No matter how discreet you believe you are being, everyone around you is aware that you are texting.

Why does it matter, anyway? We live in a society where texting is fast becoming the go-to mode of communication. Even my 72-year-old mother has a smartphone and sends me text messages. Who cares if I read it and respond during a part of a meeting in which I have nothing to contribute at that moment?

Therein lies the rub.

People do care, and they care a lot.

There are unintended consequences of allowing personal conversations to distract you from the work that you are being paid to do. Short of a bona-fide emergency, these distractions often make a person appear unprofessional to their peers and leaders. Just last week, two co-workers were clearly texting back and forth during a meeting and the presenter was distracted by their behavior. We wondered if they (the co-workers) thought that no one could figure out what they were doing or if they just didn’t care that they were acting like junior-high school students passing notes?

Are you a Toxic Texter?

TRY THIS — for the next two days, track how much time you spend engaging in personal text messages while at work. Include time spent reading, pondering, composing, sending, editing, and checking for a response.   Additionally, keep track of your work-related text messages.

Evaluate your results. It might be time to turn off texting while at work. If you’re not sure if your workplace is “text friendly”, ask! Having an explicit conversation about acceptable and unacceptable electronic behaviors can be relationship-building and help bridge distance.

Happy Holidays and thank you for reading!

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