A thoughtful guide to tactful texting

Rachel Perlmutter

It’s no question that text messaging has become an essential part of communication. For UT students, texting is vital for everything from campus safety alerts to organizing study groups. The pervasiveness of texting has led to some common social blunders. Since the cell phone has become somewhat of an additional appendage, situations often go unnoticed in which its use causes inadvertent tension. Based on the advice of etiquette writers Emily Post and Diane Gottsman (author of social and business etiquette guide "Pearls of Polish" and owner of corporate etiquette training company, The Protocol School of Texas), here are some rules for texting in social settings.

At work, sending text messages is perfectly acceptable at your desk. Once the meeting starts, it would be best to keep your phone safely tucked away in your pocket. If you are trying to show your boss how diligent and focused you are, directing your attention elsewhere in their presence may not be the best idea, and it may come across as apathy toward the meeting. This is further compounded in job interviews. In a recent poll by Career Builder, 71 percent of employers cited calling and texting during an interview as a reason they chose not to hire someone. Interviews are about showcasing the best possible qualities of yourself. Texting is not one of those qualities.

Whether you are with a date, friend or it’s complicated, it’s impolite to text while you are engaged in conversation with someone. It gives the impression that you aren’t really invested in the conversation, even if your company says it won’t bother them. It also detracts from your ability to engage in conversation. Putting your phone away shows respect for the people who spend their time to talk to you.

This particular scenario often comes to a head at meal times: If you are eating by yourself in the kitchen, feel free to text to your heart’s content. However, according to author and Emily Post’s great-granddaughter Dr. Cindy Post Senning, any time you are at a meal where your attention should be focused on other people, your cell phone should be out of sight. “If you’re having dinner with friends and family, be with them,” Post Senning wrote.

If you absolutely must check your messages, you should excuse yourself from the table. As a general rule, don’t text during meals if it would be inappropriate to make a phone call in its place. Keep your cell phone out of reach and sight so as to be fully present with your company. Although it may not seem like much, it goes a long way toward showing the people you are with that you value them and their time.

There is nothing wrong with texting in casual situations with your friends, just so long as it doesn’t detract from any conversations with present company. Sometimes this becomes an issue when you are dealing with a separate conflict via text. It may seem as if you are doing your companions a favor by keeping the drama to a dull vibrate, but it doesn’t usually work that way. Even if you are lounging on the couch with a few people, an argument via text generally consumes your attention. It still affects those around you because it’s clear that you’re bothered or upset. Excuse yourself and make the phone call, or politely tell the third party you can discuss matters later.

Despite its discretion, nothing you say in a text message has the guarantee of remaining private. With the bevy of celebrities who have been caught red-handed through their text messages (Tiger Woods and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, to name a few), it’s important to watch what you say. Regardless of the information, if it’s something you wouldn’t want anyone besides the recipient to see, it might be best to wait until your next phone call or encounter. Even if they don’t show anyone, it doesn’t mean someone might not see your message over their shoulder.

If there is an emergency at hand and texting is absolutely necessary, be discrete. If appropriate, acknowledge your need to send a quick message. If something is so serious that it requires an entire conversation, it might be more efficient to temporarily excuse yourself and take care of it. In the end, it all comes down to common courtesy. Putting your phone away is a signal to others that you value their presence. In doing so, you can show friends, family and employers alike that you want to hear what they have to say.