Texting and Writing at Work: Reading Between the Lines
Tina B. Tessina (aka "Dr. Romance") is a psychotherapist and author of several books, including her latest 'It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.' In the course of working on another article (one about graphology), I asked Dr. Tessina about the psychology behind what we write. As it turned out, she gave some very insightful answers on social media, job hunting, and the filling out of applications.
Q. I remember learning in the psychology of graphology that people who write small i's in the first person and people who don't use caps at all supposedly have low self-esteem. But that may be changing now with the use of mobile devices. It's food for thought -- if I were hiring, and I got an application in lowercase, I'd think it was either ee cummings in disguise, or somebody who's too lazy to hit the shift key. Would I be wrong? Is the use of the iPhone, BlackBerry, and etc. changing all that?
A. Socially, it's all changing, and IMHO, not for the better. :-) But, business, school and formal occasions should still be different, and command the respect of proper English spelling, grammar and capital letters. When I receive a communiqué in improper English, I always form a negative first opinion of the writer -- which doesn't change unless I find out English is a second language -- there, I cut a little slack. There is really no excuse -- with the current e-mail tools -- for un-capitalized words, misspellings, and poor grammar. Your e-mail will check them all. Don't forget, it's especially important in business e-mail to have a proper subject. Even your e-mail address can look bad (hotmama@gmail does not seem very businesslike).
Q. Do you think potential employers expect to see whole words spelled out? Everyone may know what OMG means, but does that mean it's all right to use it in a business setting?
A. No, it isn't all right -- that's why I used IMHO as a joke up above. The employer will expect that the way you're writing to him (especially in the beginning) is the same as the image you'll project as an ambassador for your company. Texting shorthand is not OK! If you text abbreviations to your prospective or new employer, he or she won't know if you can distinguish between a business and casual setting. If you're long-established on your job, and your employer knows the difference, casual spelling might be acceptable, but be careful -- formal is very much safer.
Q. Are emoticons a no-no in professional correspondence, even when texting?
A. Yes. They are not acceptable. If you're just joking around with a friend in a business setting, they may get by, but not with professional situations.
Q. What are some of the upsides to our new-fangled 140 character communiqués?
A. Twitter, Facebook updates, and LinkedIn status lines are very useful (I'll be a panelist on an ASJA panel called "Take Your Writing Career to the Next Level With Social Media" coming up in July, because I think it's so important.) But, even here, you must understand the difference between social messing around and professional messages. On Twitter, it's not appropriate to be all business. People don't like it if you do that -- you must make some light-hearted and socially friendly comments, too. However, any professional Tweets you send should look professional and also look as if you understand the medium. Facebook presents a different problem, because personal pages and "fan pages" are different, and for different reasons. So, if you're a teen heartthrob, you can get away with OMGs and LOLs on your fan page, and even suggestive pictures, but if you're promoting an adult business, you should be businesslike, intelligent and efficient in your posts. LinkedIn is a business medium, so be all business there, except in private messages to friends.
Q. How have the "rules" changed, since so few situations call for us to handwrite much of anything anymore? (Personally, I have noticed a massive deterioration in the legibility of my handwriting over the years -- I don't even write grocery lists, anymore... it's all in my iPhone.)
A. Not too many of us write by hand any more, but then think how much impact a hand-written thank you note, on proper note paper, would have! Most editors, for example, want querys and proposals via e-mail these days, but I always send a hand-written note of thanks when it's appropriate. The bonus is, I can include a bookmark/business card, or a business card magnet, which keeps me on their minds.
Q. What are some popular misconceptions about signatures and psychology? (For example, people think John Hancock must have been conceited; some people don't understand how or why an artist's signature changed drastically over the years... Alberto Varga[s] being a prime example.)
A. People today often don't understand how important calligraphy (beautiful handwriting) was in the past. After all, it was the only impression people got to make when writing was the only distance medium. People worked long hours in school practicing 'penmanship' like students today practice video games. There were specific exercises, like scribing rows and rows of near perfect circles to practice getting the curves in letters really round. Handwriting WAS who you were in those days. Your signature does say a lot about you. Ask any handwriting analyst (I once did the foreword for a handwriting book) -- they can read your mental state at the time, as well as many character traits. But, I don't think the average person is accurate in what they read into a signature. (Don't miss What Your Handwriting Says About You.)
Q. What should job applicants avoid when handwriting a job application?
A. If you're left-handed, like I am, be sure you have a pen or pencil that doesn't cause you to smear ink all over the page. No gel pens for me-- they don't dry fast enough. Don't use colors. Standard black or blue ink is what you need. Have your own pen and pencil with you, so you can control what you write with. You'll also appear professional and prepared to the employer. Take your time and write as legibly as possible. The employer shouldn't have to struggle to make out your name, phone number, address or e-mail. If you have a well-done printed resume with you, you can attach it to the application, and shorten the form-filling process -- and you'll look much more prepared. Your résumé should include all the numbers and info you'll need, so you don't have to have any "I don't know" spaces on the form. You can neatly write in "see resume" in spaces on the form -- for example, when it asks for your education, job history, etc. It's always good to fill out the basic info such as name, address and phone number on the form itself, even though you're duplicating what's on the resume. Neatness and professionalism count for filling out legal papers as well: your rental lease, applications for driver's license, etc.
Staci Layne Wilson is the author of several books, and works as a freelance journalist in entertainment, fashion, and film. She enjoys writing about herself in the third person. Staci Layne blogs about the celebrities she interviews at http://stacilaynewilson.wordpress.com, and she tweets about her coffee breaks at http://twitter/staciwilson.