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7 Unprofessional Text Messages to Avoid at All Costs

Props to you if you’re a savvy texter. It’s a quick and informal way to make plans, share ideas and coordinate with others. Like any communication tool, there are more and less suitable uses for text messages, especially in the workplace.

Depending on the misuse (even if unintentional), it could lose you the support of management and team mates. At worst, inappropriate texting can cost you your job. At best, it makes you appear inexperienced and unprofessional.

Your manager might pass you over for a desirable assignment if she judges you’re “not ready” to take on more responsibility. Even if this isn’t a job you plan to stay with, a reputation for sending unprofessional text messages could mean a poor (or no) reference.

In a competitive job market, can you really afford to burn bridges like that?

Of course, if it was unintentional, try not to get defensive. Apologize and make amends.

The problem isn’t with texting itself. It’s with the types of messages you send. Some communications are still best handled by phone or in-person. Still others should never occur at all via text, email or voice.

Avoid the following types of text messages.

  1. Excessive personal texting. Most companies have policies allowing a reasonable amount of personal communication at work. Whether via email, text or phone, most employers understand your need to check-in with family, schedule appointments or coordinate your carpool. If you’re in the habit of frequent texting through-out the work day, you’re probably stepping over the line.
  2. Texting in front of customers. Not only is this unprofessional, it can cost your company future business. This one customer will likely tell the story of inattentive and poor service to at least 10 other people.
  3. Gossiping or complaining about your boss or co-worker. If you have a problem with someone, the best approach is to talk to that person directly and try to resolve it. “Text venting” seems innocuous, but those short bursts keep the negativity going longer. It keeps you feeling miserable and doesn’t solve anything. Instead it reinforces the negative opinion you hold and will likely cause you to interact with that person in a way that can escalate into conflict.
  4. Arguing. The short format of text messages makes them especially rife for misinterpretation. There is usually insufficient context and no ability to read body language or facial expressions. The shorthand “w/e” or “wuteva” during a text argument is perceived as dismissive and disrespectful. “RTFM” (read the f*cking manual), as with any use of blue language at work unless it’s a norm, is not acceptable. In all these, and similar, instances, the conflict is bound to escalate. Incidentally, disagreements shouldn’t be tackled via email either. Talk it out by phone or in person.
  5. Sending snide exchanges about co-workers during a meeting. Though similar to number 3, texting secret, nasty comments while in the presence of the object(s) of your derision, creates bad juju for everyone. Including you. People will sense your dissatisfaction. They will notice you’re distracted and not contributing productively to the discussion at hand. You’re not helping your career by doing this even if you have legitimate complaints. Find a more constructive way to address your unhappiness—adjust your attitude or work out differences with whomever you need.
  6. Firing a vendor. You never want to burn bridges in professional circles. In this case, it isn’t only your own bridge burning up. It’s your company’s. Whatever the reason for moving on to a different vendor, communicate the change with respect. At minimum, this requires a phone call. It helps to work out what to say with your supervisor in advance.
  7. Slurs or demeaning language against any protected class or texts that can be construed as sexual harassment. Do not send that hot co-worker a lewd photo or cartoon. Don’t ask, even by implication, for sexual favors. Avoid name calling or any language that could be interpreted as prejudiced. If you don’t know what falls into this category, consider taking a diversity class. If the recipient of such texts ever complained to management, your messages could be subpoenaed. Even if you’ve deleted your texts, an electronic record remains. Both you and your company face legal liability. Just don’t do it.

Let’s be clear. Texting is an efficient and productive communication tool in the work place. According to HeyWire Business’s recent survey, 67% of professionals use text messaging for business-related purposes. For quick, factual information-sharing, texting is convenient.

In general, if there are more than three questions, the problem isn’t solved in three exchanges or there’s an interpersonal component to the issue, use the phone or meet in person. GJ if you’re already following the above guidelines.

Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. is the founder of Conflict Tango whose mission is to help people handle conflict with less stress and more confidence. She authored a FREE eBook with 26 ways to do just that. Come get your copy of Conflict to Creativity from A to Z.

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