Conventional Wisdom?

Is abbreviated, less formal “text speak” eroding professional communication skills? Science says no because research indicates that we distinguish context and situationally switch language from “text speak” to “professional speak” when appropriate.

However, I think that’s risky professional advice. It assumes most have the dexterity to shift. Fluid switching takes intention and a lot of practice to gain fluency.

The Rationale

Collaboration is a knowledge economy skill and the key to building trust and relationships in professional and personal arenas. Because conflict is inevitable when two people interact, the foundation of collaboration and conflict avoidance is non-judgmental word choice. I have immersed myself in shifting my language from judgmental to neutral for twenty years. It’s a daily challenge requiring intentional effort and quick self-correcting. It is unrealistic to assume that most, especially young professionals, who have grown up texting and had minimal exposure to professional speak, can switch from text speak gracefully.

My Advice

I suggest erring on the side of formality for communication in the job search, interview and professional spaces. It looks sloppy to use “text speak” to begin a professional email “Hey Nancy” rather than “Ms. Smith.” Even if you know the person, go formal; you are asking for a job and salary. It speaks to respect. “Text speak” in an email or text between professionals is a faux pas that reflects poorly on your judgment and work ethic.

I see these easily avoidable missteps often. If you are using informal speak in an email, the likelihood for it to bleed into your verbal conversation is high. It’s simply impossible to predict a client, colleague or your CEO’s value system and reaction to “textese.”

I have one professional coaching client whose CEO boss sent an email to his direct reports specifying the following regarding formality in all organizational communications:

“We at XYZ [a service organization] can play a larger role by modeling precision and elegance of language, courtesy and graciousness, and, as always, sincerity and integrity.”

Why take the risk? The goal is to be excellent at your job description and keep your boss worry free. For the time being, respectful articulation with full on specificity, the opposite of “text speak,” is implicit in every job description. When in doubt, go for respect.

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