How to Wreck Your First Job in One Simple Text

The clash over talking vs. texting

Young businesswoman reading texts on cellphone
Alamy

It was the second week of Jen's new job. She was fresh out of college and thrilled to be working at a Fortune 500 company. She was also thrilled to be invited to an early morning executive leadership breakfast at a nearby hotel. But when none of her team showed up at the designated meeting place by the appointed time, she did what she always did in similar situations. She texted.

Oops. It turns out that new hire Jen was on the wrong side of the Great Communications Gap. She was a texter; her new boss was a talker. She'd left a voicemail for Jen about the hotel change. But Jen wasn't in the habit of checking her voicemail. "I'm not sure it was really installed," she explained later.

If you're a recent college graduate, you may not know much about this growing Talking versus Text gap. Or maybe you do. Think about your Mom. When she wants to get in touch, does she text you? Or call you?

If she's a Baby Boomer, it's likely that she wants to hear your voice. Not your LOL or smiley emoji. While virtually every age group these days is spending less time talking on the phone, boomers are the only ones gabbing like they did when they dialed Flagstone 2-8066 on the Princess phone.

Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project support this generational clash. Research says that the younger you are, the more likely you are to prefer texting. Nielsen reports that texting among 18-24 year olds --prime first job territory-- has more than doubled in recent years, from 600 texts a month to more than 1,400. Unlimited data plans accelerate this trend. And as we all know, email is so last millennium.

Obviously, this is fine in your personal life. But what about at work? Could that first job of yours be sabotaged by not being aware of the accepted communications etiquette in your office?

Career experts suggest the following:

Make no assumptions. Baby Boomers are not necessarily Luddites nor are your fellow Millennials always texting up a storm in the office. Ask your manager and your colleagues directly about the ways in which they want to be contacted.

Don't balk at the talkers. If it's your boss, that is. You're not going to convert a Talker to a Texter if she's had decades of communicating via voice. Texters frequently view phone calls as "intrusions" while Talkers are often annoyed by emoticons and abbreviations.

Luke's manager, Tina, was in the habit of calling him while she was commuting and stuck in traffic. She used that time to tap into her SUV's Bluetooth and catch up on work calls. The constant background noise, bad connections and call fails drove Luke crazy. He tried approaching her candidly but soon realized that Tina's habit was too deeply entrenched. So Luke came up with a work-around: he switched his personal trainer appointments to Tina's commute time. The rules of the gym forced him to turn off his phone.

If you do text with your managers or even another employee, avoid the BRB and shortened spellings. One of the sensitivities among non-texters relates to grammar and punctuation. Also discuss what's reasonable in terms of a texted answer. Comfortable Texters are usually rapid-fire real-time responders. Infrequent texters may consider "ASAP" to mean the next time they text. Which could mean "tomorrow."

Understand the vernacular. Texters may use the expression "talk" to mean texting or even Facebook commenting. "Oh, I talked to her yesterday" may mean texting, not voice. Employees should be clear about the type of communication they've conducted with business related conversations.

Be smart about video calls. Just because your boss prefers talking does not automatically translate into a desire for a Google Hang-Out or Skype call. Ask before you click VIDEO when scheduling a conference call.

Look to HR for guidance. In some European countries, new employee-employer communications protocols are in place. In Germany, even the government has become involved, banning certain types of after-hours communication behaviors such as phone calls. Some corporations such as VW actually turn off email at close of business. While these practices don't appear to be widespread in the U.S.,Human Resources professionals are monitoring these trends closely.

Are you a Talker or a Texter? Let us know in the Comments.

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