R U Professional? A GearChat on Text Messaging

(image courtesy Activerain.com)

I received a text message from a professional person yesterday that set my teeth on edge. The content was fine, but it was presented in a very unfortunate way. See, any place “you’re”, “you”, or “are” should have been used, she replaced it with “UR”, “U”, and “R”. Unless she’s on a special texting plan where she pays by the letter (unlikely), there’s no excuse for those abbreviations in a professional setting.

Sadly, this has been a trend I am encountering more and more, even with adults in a corporate setting. Text-speak is bad enough with personal messages, but at least those are informal. When you’re trying to present yourself as an expert, or as someone whose services are necessary, it just makes you look immature and incompetent. I recognize these abbreviations may have originally appeared to get around the 160 character limit on text messages, but here’s how I see it: If you need to communicate with me, and you’ve run out of space in your text message, this is a sign the information shouldn’t be conveyed via text. If it’s not time-sensitive, send me an email. If it’s important, pick up the phone and call me; don’t send me a text that reads like a 12-year old wrote it.

And what really irritates me is that sender of this text is in the sales business. So am I. One of the first things you learn about building a sales business and reputation is that everything you put out with your name on it is something that reflects on you directly. Every letter, every brochure, every business card, and yes, every text message. No one ever thinks “Oh how terrible, my lawyer/accountant/realtor sent me this very professional and formal message”, but they’re far more likely to notice if they get a message that’s too informal or personal for the relationship. And trust me, it won’t be a positive impression. Personally, I think long and hard about doing business with anyone who doesn’t care enough about their professional image to spell out words and use full sentences.

I asked the rest of the Gear Diary team what their thoughts were…here’s what they had to say:

Travis: I hate it!!! Some of my friends have made comments about how I send long texts because I write correctly. Maybe it is because I am a teacher and have seen text speak in student essay answers! It makes steam come out of my ears, because there is a time and place for everything!

Joel:  Seriously? Wow. Even the teens I know wouldn’t do that. Man.

Doug: If they’re over the age of, say, 18, then yeah, it really bugs me; kids who grew up doing it, not so much. I suspect that by the time my daughter is 30, it will be pervasive even at the professional level, but I may be wrong.

I’m a writer–I mean, a professional, ya know, *writer*, so I take a perverse pride in going the extra mile. Hell, in corporate emails I don’t even use *common* acronyms like “ASAP” and “FYI”; I use the opportunity when I might as a chance to maybe reword things better. I treat Twitter’s 140 character limit as a challenge to be brief and precise–I avoid those kind of abbreviations even *there*.

In short, yes, I think it’s bogus from one professional to another, but I also recognize that I’m on the far end of the spectrum that way. Perhaps Siri will help alleviate it?

Thomas: At work, we often shorten our communications in instant messaging, including not worrying about misspelling/grammar, as we are in a highly interactive, fast-paced discussion. However, in any other communication (email, etc.), we write things properly.

I personally don’t like when people do this either, unless they are trying to save characters so they can get everything into a single message. I do that on Twitter in some cases. If they send something like “thx i got ur msg”, though, I _hate_ that, as they had more space to type things out properly.

Judie: I can’t stand it. I try not to make assumptions about the writer when I get texts or emails written with those type abbreviations, but I generally figure that anyone shooting off a reply which includes numbers or letters substituted for common words is driving, which is irresponsible and unsafe. It’s more likely that the writer is just lazy or under the age of 25, and I do realize this is probably a generational gap thing as Doug suggested. But I have also been guilty of using ‘LOL’ to indicate that I think something is funny, and I am the queen of placing a smilie after a sentence. Those are all parts of the same unprofessional problem, right?

And … most of the time I can’t be bothered to use caps when I tweet or Facebook, so I feel like a jerk for even complaining; it’s the pot calling the kettle black. =P

Dan: Ur all 2 picky

Joel: I say that it all depends on the predictive text you use on your phone. I use the built in stuff because it works the best on my devices, but predictive test can be a pain. I usually do NOT use abbreviations as they annoy me.

Mike:  Since I have a 15 and almost-14 year old, as well as three just-out-of-college nieces and nephews, I have seen stuff on all ends of the spectrum. But in professional communications I expect … well, professional communications. If someone has a BlackBerry, Android or iPhone there is no excuse. With people I have become friends with through work the communications become more casual, but when I see a ‘u’ or ‘ur’ I immediate judge age, and if that is wrong I just judge.

Dan: When I have a business email or letter I almost always have my assistant read it first (so long as it is not confidential) for the very reason OF professionalism.

And here is my related pet peeve- this MG Seigler/Josh Topolsky exchange last week. I don’t give a @#!$ what language you use with your friends and family but in business, or something that is published it is unprofessional to be dropping f-bombs as if they are the article “the”. It didn’t make either of them look cool or passionate, it made them look like morons.

So that’s the Gear Diary Team’s view. We’re all of varying ages and backgrounds, and we all agree-it’s not professional to use text-speak and curse words to make your point. But what’s your take? Does it make you want to pull your hair out, or do you not notice or care?

Categories: Editorials, Rants and Raves

20 replies

  1. Love Judie’s comment.  I’m right there with her.  I don’t like most of it, but I will admit to using LOL lots of times!! I do prefer to type out every word properly though.

  2. I never use text speech when writing.  I can’t stand it.

  3. I used to tease my sister when she’d occasionally text me with “UR…”, because Ur to me represents an ancient Sumerian city. See, that’s what having a history minor will do to you. 

    In all seriousness, I understand the desire to condense thoughts to make speedy texts, as Carly said, but I’m somewhat old school and I can’t bring myself to do it easily even in texts…the English language is such a beautiful instrument and I hate to see it dumbed down. That aside, it has no place in business communications, especially with as Joel mentioned predictive text correction, or when the ability for audio dictation exists. Carly was spot in that if the message is that important to require a lot of words, then perhaps texting isn’t the most appropriate form of communication. Oddly enough, this is precisely the rationale my wife used when she entered the world of smartphones, and why she refused to buy a texting plan. It’s either voice or email for her.

    • Totally agree – I never did ‘IM-speak’, ‘133t-speek’, nor doI do ‘text speak’. It makes my messaging slow and laborious compared to some, but … so be it.

      • I rarely do it either, even informally, and I grew up on AIM (I am 30). It just seems wrong to me. I once dated someone who would actually say “L O L” and such…which I found very weird.

        • For me it is partly a question of who I am communicating with. If I am writing my wife or one of the other editors on GD I’ll do the abbreviated thing… but that is because we KNOW eachother and, among other things, can often infer the tone or the message and fill in the gaps… Business? People I don’t know well? Clear, full, hopefully respectful text in my IMs and emails.

          • Certainly I understand the simplicity for a quick trade of info as opposed to crunching an estate will, and absolutely if the party is familiar with one another and understands the context for brief exchanges.

        • This makes me think of a scene from one of the kids’ movies: some wide-eyed preteen looking at something and saying, “O  M  G!!” Not something I want to see a grown man or woman do. 

  4. Dan added the exact comment i was going to make!! 

  5. I will admit “leetspeak” is great for passwords!

  6. IMHO, this is much ado about nothing. I have received emails asking me to invite people to a 2 PM meeting ASAP. I didn’t consider it unprofessional that the sender didn’t spell out As Soon As Possible or Post Meridian. I also don’t consider myself unprofessional for not calling them electronic mail messages. Texting elisions do tend to seem uneducated, reflecting more an inability to spell than an ability to communicate in the modern patois. OTOH, acronyms have a long and illustrious history from Rome’s SPQR to Judaism’s Tanakh. Technology, especially, uses them to excess. When was the last time Gear Diary spelled out “read only memory”? As far as Google knows, never.

    So everybody calm down and move on to fight the real enemies – anybody who uses emoticons or a heart to dot their “i”.

    P.S. (or should I say post scriptum) I appreciate the graphic. As one nearing retirement, it’s nice to have a reference for my sons’ texts.

    • Bravo, Hildy. I couldn’t help but smile as I read your comment. =)

    • Hildy … I <3 ur comment! 😀

      Seriously, though there is a difference between an Acronym, Abbreviation, contraction, and text-message word shortenings. As everyone says, it is contextual – and based on the person.

      Two things bother me, though:
      – Younger kids use texting as a crutch, just as email was used a decade ago – a crutch to replace interpersonal communication. We make sure our kids are concersant, but it isn't easy. Most kids I deal with have atrocious phone manners – and it is girls as well as boys! To the point where if I can have an actual conversation on the phone with one of my kids' friends the memory will stick with me all week!
      – Using texting shortcuts when exchanging text messages is one thing, and while it might mark someone as being 'of a certain age', so does my dogged insistance of using full sentences. However, when I see that creep into business communications via a computer or worse yet into a presentation … THAT I find unacceptable and have had to 'coach' more than a couple of new hires on how poorly that comes across …

      • I admit the cultural divide has produced what I consider odd values as well. For my kids, who criticize me when I “voice” them, a conversation on the phone is impersonal. They converse via text which, I have been told, they feel is less impersonal that a phone conversation and allows them to consider their replies without the dead air, that doing the same during a phone conversation, would lead to. Then again, if you add video with something like Skype, they have no problem. De gustibus non disputandum est.

        At work, though, I think you are right. Some things might brand you as hip (or whatever the current word for that is) while others just brand you as immature in both a personal and professional sense. Still, learning how to act “grown up” in a professional setting has always been a challenge to the young. One used to need to know what knot to use when tying your tie. Now it’s a question of how to tie a tie (and, of course, there’s an app for that). Not to mention that I shudder to think what my college aged son would consider an appropriate mix of patterns and colors.Still, most of the young eventually fit in with us old folks.

        And we can take solace in knowing that they will be having this same conversation in twenty years although I have no idea what they will be complaining about in the youth of tomorrow.

  7. Do you know what is really scary?  I have a friend who is an English teacher for a local high school.  Her students are writing their essay assignments using text message abbreviations and leetspeak.  Ouch.  I am all for English as a language morphing and changing over time, but for an essay in English class?  And yes, the student was asked to rewrite it.