By Maci Peterson
Texts are direct, real-time and always available, perfect for our 24/7 workplace culture. But what should you do when the downsides of texting catch you out in the workplace? Misdirected messages, embarrassing autocorrect changes -- or worse -- are a fact of texting life. But what you can laugh off with friends can have serious repercussions in a professional environment.
My company, On Second Thought, builds mobile SDK solutions that give users more control over their messaging experience. A recent internal survey we conducted of a representative sample of 1,000 American mobile users revealed that 55 percent of people text their co-workers or other professional contacts and 22 percent text their boss and other upper management.
A Text Message Is Forever
Texting feels conversational, but everything you send leaves a permanent written record that can easily be shared beyond the initial recipient. In talking to our users, I hear stories of how texting has gone wrong in the workplace, as well as how users have recovered from situations that range from amusing and embarrassing to professionally damaging. If you find yourself having to recover from a texting faux pas, I suggest doing the following:
1. Address your mistake immediately.
If what you’ve written is simply unclear or open to misinterpretation, an immediate apology and clarification is the best bet to defuse any potential conflict. Hoping the recipient won’t notice your mistake increases the risk that you’ll end up as one of the 42 percent of users who report sending a bad text that upsets someone close to them.
Most mistakes are simply embarrassing, but 8 percent of users report that they were made to feel bad or even bullied as a result of their texting mistake. Workplace bullying policies can be inconsistent, and victims may be reluctant to share their initial embarrassing mistake with supervisors or HR.
Policies regarding workplace harassment should account for digital communications that can blur the lines between the office and the outside world. You should understand how your policy would deal with an issue that could arise between employees who may not be communicating on official company channels, and be prepared to deal with conflicts that can start virtually, but affect workplace productivity.
2. Know that not all mistakes are equal.
Managers and executives understand that communication mistakes can happen in a fast-paced environment. The CEO of Soapbox, David Simnick, whom I met through an organization for entrepreneurs and CEOs, says his team does much of their communication via text and Slack, a workplace instant messaging platform.
“I don’t worry too much about the inevitable mistakes that creep in. Our team is very close-knit, so misunderstandings don’t escalate. However, if someone’s communication style is consistently sloppy, even on internal tools, I’d be reluctant to promote them into certain roles. And in a few cases, like the disclosure of confidential information to the wrong recipient, I may have to take the issue very seriously, even if it’s an honest mistake.”
These more serious issues are not as uncommon as you might think -- 8 percent of our survey respondents reported serious professional consequences for their bad texts.
As a CEO, I understand firsthand the importance of creating a positive and collaborative culture for my employees. Miscommunication can play a big role in driving conflict among them -- it's bad for employee satisfaction and for our ability to focus on the mission. But even for a company founded on the idea that everyone makes and should be able to correct texting mistakes, I have to be conscious of the impression that my team members make externally to customers, partners and even investors.
3. Practice an ounce of prevention.
Of course, there is no getting around the fact that the best way to deal with text message mistakes is before pressing "send." For critical stakeholders, always encourage employees to double- and even triple-check what they send, and stick to more formal communication channels for especially sensitive topics.
With more communication, rather than less, texting in the workplace can be for the good -- as long as mistakes are addressed, empathy is practiced, and employees of all levels are cautious.
Maci Peterson is the co-founder and CEO of On Second Thought, a messaging software that lets you take back messages before they get to the other person.