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ETIQUETTE AT WORK

Setting boundaries on text messages

By Peter Post
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2011

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Q. My husband works with several single women. We both are uncomfortable with them text messaging him about nonwork-related matters. How can he communicate this boundary without being rude? Should he just not respond?

B.G., Gholson, Texas

A. That’s awkward. Certainly, simply not responding would be rude. People resent being ignored, and not responding to a text message is the equivalent of ignoring the sender.

Are the text messages innocuous ramblings? If they are, he can try responding with a simple, “Thanks for the message’’ or “Got it.’’ While it may not stop the messages, it also doesn’t encourage further “conversation.’’ He can also wait a day or two before responding.

If the messages are in the form of a question, he’s got more of a dilemma. Not answering would be rude, but answering engages in a conversation that could continue back and forth. At this point he does need to say something.

He also needs to say something if the texts are inappropriate or provocative. The key is to do it tactfully. “Jane, thanks, I got your text. In the future I’d appreciate it if we kept text messages to work matters only. That would really help me stay focused on my job while I’m here, and on my family during off-hours. Thank you.’’

The more I travel and teach, the more convinced I am that texting is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in the office. Businesses are recognizing the cost in reduced productivity, and they will not stand idly by. Even if your company doesn’t have a “rule,’’ if you make or receive personal calls or text messages, others including your boss, will notice.

The best option for workers with smartphones and cellphones is to turn them off or put them on vibrate and not respond unless it is to a legitimate business call or text message.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.