When texting isn’t enough

September 13, 2007, 10:22 PM UTC
Fortune

Let’s talk about text-messaging. That’s right, talk. Because evidently, some of us have forgotten how. You’re probably wondering how in the world this is a workplace issue, and I would be, too — except that several times over the last few weeks, recruiters and other corporate-types have asked me how to handle young people who’d rather text than talk.

This might not be such a big deal but for the fact that it seems to surface most when there’s a conflict to resolve. It used to be that, if you had a problem with your colleague or wanted to confront your boss about something, you sat down and had a hard but helpful conversation. Nowadays, you send an abbreviated- and emoticon-laced e-mail and hope for the best. Which, needless to say, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in higher-ups. And when it comes to interviewing, recruiters are reporting that, faced with a difficult question or scenario in an interview, candidates just shut down. Maybe all those “alarmists” warning about the risks of being too wired and pointing to our generation’s lack of interpersonal skills aren’t so far off.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; girlfriends have been getting the boot via text for years. As one source so eloquently put it in a December 2005 Washington Post story: “It was easier to say, ‘Look, things just aren’t working out’ ” via text message, said [Andrew] Weigle, 23, who lives in Falls Church. “I’m not the most verbal person when it comes to expressing emotions,” he admitted, but with text messaging, “I can put it out there and feel like I’m not saying it. I find there’s a little more freedom to say what you’re feeling.”

And with an average of 18.7 billion text messages sent every month in 2006, there are a lot of feelings being expressed (according to some crazy stats from the wireless industry trade group CTIA). Just not in person. That might be all right when you’re trying to escape a second date, but not so much when it comes to office relations. Which means that, as much as we’d like to text our troubles away, we’re going to need to train or retrain ourselves to settle them face-to-face. Sound reasonable? Or is this another imagined Gen Y “problem”?