Fast and loose with the spoken word is one thing; but speech (when calcified on paper) can produce either extraordinary or devastating outcomes. Texting has transmorphed what was previously a domain of careful study and scrupulous forethought to a slapdash affair, one in which we may not take time to proofread. Instant has become the catchphrase (not just for a communication medium), but for a mode as well. Wrapped with ragged taped edges, “send” is now a metaphor for a more permanent form. Sometimes we forget the following:
A generational difference exists between those who grew up with texting, and those who struggle with SMART phone bells, whistles, and associated gadgets. People who came of age pre-digital have a different set of standards (and expectations) for what they consider appropriate written format – with greetings, body, and closing considered par for the course. Pleasantries (with a gander into how someone else is doing) rather than getting right down to it with our own demand/regret/complaint/ and/or personal agenda is also standard fare. As in oral acknowledgement, written discourse implies receivers who have feelings, needs, and a desire to be understood (and appreciated), just like ourselves. E-mail should thus give pause, because it can be forwarded ’round the world by those with whom we are unfamiliar. Tonality/presentation stamps us in receivers’ minds, with little room for error once solidified. How then should we proceed given the potential for negative repercussions?
Proofread: not just once (or simply a “glance and go”), but a double eyeballed twice-over that sifts through an entire document from top to bottom; a visual inspection (or rather dissection) of words on a page to ensure that our message has not gone missing.
Read out loud. Would you enjoy being the recipient of what you just wrote? Actually hearing our handiwork is a crucial step in refining intent – so that we do not unintentionally cause offense. “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission” does not apply to writing, where it is more difficult to weasel out of wrong word choice.
Respect other people’s time. IM implies that we should send messages when it is convenient to us, landing at any time of day or night in someone else’s electronic lap. Unless it is incumbent to send workplace updates after hours, refrain from pushing “send” whenever the spirit moves you – especially when others may feel the urgency to immediately follow-up: see What Sending after Hours E-mail May do to Your Productivity (which suggests electronic back and forth may cause stress, both for the sender and receiver).
Try the handwritten approach. Penning slows us down, delights the recipient (assuming you had something positive to say!), and makes us appear as those who have taken time to make another person’s day. My notes are many years old, but I cherish them because they are thoughtful, beautiful, and uniquely personalized to me.